As Boas Maneiras | Brazil/France | 2018 | Directed by Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas
Logline: A lonely nurse, hired as a nanny by a wealthy pregnant woman, becomes involved in the fate of the woman and her unborn child.
Zombies, vampires, and ghosts are a dime a dozen in horror cinema, but for some reason there aren’t many werewolf flicks, and even fewer ones with a good bite. I have a soft furry spot for a decent lycanthropy tale, and at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, in my favourite "Freak Me Out" section is a co-production, co-directed and co-written by a pair who have been collaborating for many years, that tells the bristling, shaggy tale of an unlikely romance, the birth of a particularly bitey baby, and the tenuous motherhood that followed.
It’s a hairy tail, er, I mean a fairy tale, but it is filled with much darkness and heartbreak, sadness and despair, and ends on a sharp note.
Ana (Marjorie Estiano) is pregnant and on her own. But she is affluent. She lives in a large plush apartment. She is looking for a nanny, and ends up hiring Clara (Isabél Zuaa), who is obviously desperate, but possesses a soothing touch. The two women are worlds apart, but a bond is ignited, and love is made. But there is something in the flow of the night that is troubling Ana. The doctor orders she abstain from eating meat. Each month when Luna is full and her glow is ripe, Ana sleepwalks and lowers the stray cat population. Clara is very worried.
Fabricated like a children’s dark storybook (even with a beautifully illustrated sequence), with striking faces, sumptuous, stylized cityscape shots that suggest they’ve been painted rather than filmed, Good Manners is a fable about unconditional love, about human and animal nature, and about acceptance and resilience in the face of menace and danger. It’s a tale of fate’s cruel hunger, but it’s a little long in the tooth.
But this movie definitely needs a haircut. At least twenty minutes shorn would give it more growl to its snarl. Still, it’s a captivating story, and even surprised me to where it was going. I was sure the local priest was going to make an appearance and a long-lost connection, but I digress …
Fangtastic performances (okay, okay, I’ll stop with the terrible puns) from the key cast, especially Marjorie Estiano, who provides the movie with much sensuality and humour, while Isabél Zuaa’s poker face through most of the craziness must be noted. The cinematography is excellent, as is the special effects, in particular the clever meld of practical and CGI for Joel (Miguel Lobo – yes, Lobo) in werewolf form, a truly original and endearing look, if lycanthropes can dare to be cute, yet dangerous.
Good Manners falls short of being a werewolf cult classic (let’s face it, they’ve only ever had cult followings) mostly due to the second half taking too long (we didn’t need the full-blown ballad performance late in the piece), and for not actually showing a proper transformation (de rigour), but Dutra and Rojas have cultivated a very decent entry into the sub-genre's lore with its own distinct, bittersweet lupine scent.
It’s the certainly the most unusual family drama of the year, I'll give it that.