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-[Film Reviews]-, Latin American Cinema

‘Good Manners’ (2017): Moonlit Dreams of Lycanthropy

Directed by: Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra || Produced by: Sara Silveira,, Maria Ionescu, Clément Duboin, Frédéric Corvez

Screenplay by: Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra || Starring: Isabél Zuaa, Marjorie Estiano, Miguel Lobo, Cida Moreira,

Music by: Guilherme Garbato, Gustavo Garbato || Cinematography: Rui Poças || Edited by: Caetano Gotardo || Country: Brazil || Language: Portuguese

Running Time: 135 minutes

As indicated by my previous essay on Michelle Garza Cervera’s directorial debut, Huesera (“The Bone Woman,” 2022), my patience for obvious social commentary or frontloaded narrative allegory in low-budget horror has worn thin given that storytelling format’s ubiquity in the contemporary independent filmmaking circuit. I am not against sociopolitical themes as narrative subtext on film in principle, or even placing one’s cinematic metaphors front and center in their screenplay — in theory, any idea on film can be interesting, depending on its execution — but the reality is that filmmakers who love their movies as personal soapboxes ride a thin line between polemical artistry and hamfisted preaching. My main beef with the modern trend of allegorical “slow-burn, atmospheric” horror is how comparable it has become to big-budget Hollywood scriptwriting in a way, just somewhat less obnoxious and more boring.

A step up from the likes of Huesera and simplistic, unimaginative thematic imagery is Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutras’ Good Manners (Portuguese = “As Boas Maneiras”), an atypical horror film hybridized with modern fantasy, family drama, and even musical elements. Its social commentary isn’t as on-the-nose as many recent, more conventional indie horror features, though it suffers from many of the same pacing issues due to its longwinded runtime (135 minutes) despite its nontraditional structure. In terms of direction, its cinematography, performances, and FX have as many lows and highs as its script, alternating between effective minimalist camerawork and memorable character relationships to dull, dry romance and clunky computer generated imagery (CGI).

Lead Isabél Zuaa follows her employer, Marjorie Estiano, as the latter sleepwalks across downtown São Paulo during a full moon.

The best compliment I can give Good Manners is that its atypical narrative format fits its screenplay’s character arcs and kept me guessing about where the story would end. The film’s distinct two-act structure subverted my expectations in a way that made sense and that heightened my interest in the overall story. You think Manners is one type of movie, but then it switches gears at the halfway point from a halfhearted love story to a coming-of-age family drama and quasi-lovable monster movie. While I still argue the film is too long, this change of pace freshens the characterization of Isabél Zuaa’s hired nanny and housekeeper protagonist.

Speaking of main characters, what is the story of Good Manners? The movie follows Zuaa after she’s hired by a wealthy pregnant single woman, Brazilian popstar Marjorie Estiano, living in downtown São Paulo, the latter who exhibits strange sleepwalking symptoms and raw meat cravings every full moon. As Zuaa and Estiano become involved romantically in the movie’s first half, Estiano shares how her unplanned single pregnancy came about from a one-night stand with a stranger who transformed into a mysterious, hairy beast that same night. See where this is going?

Good Manners avoids most of the David Cronenberg-esque body horror you’d expect from this sort of setup in favor of introspective melancholy and character study. This doesn’t work super well for the first half, where Zuaa and Estiano have little chemistry and the most interesting character details you get from the former only have to do with her supernatural backstory. The film’s second half improves considerably with the introduction of child actor Miguel Lobo, whose relationship with Zuaa is more fun, personable, and interesting, although their story’s conclusion feels abrupt and needlessly ambiguous.

In terms of direction, Good Manners is also a mixed bag. Cinematographer Rui Poças utilizes locked down, static tripod shots at flat angles for the first hour or so before diversifying his camerawork in Part Two, a stylistic change that rhymes with the screenplay’s narrative shift. The soft, high-key lighting backdrops of the movie feel even weirder, at night most of all, where it appears Rojas and Dutra combine digital color-correction processes and composite backgrounds — matte paintings, perhaps? — to give their film a distinctive fairy tale look. On the one hand, I appreciate this obvious auteur stamp, but on the other, the flat, desaturated digital cinematography in Part One feels bland in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-2019) kind of way; almost nothing pops. The cinematography also understates the urban São Paulo backdrop given its stylistic opposition to the sort of handheld, cinema verité-documentarian aesthetic popularized in films like City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007, 2010).

Last but not least, the film’s special FX on a specific character’s physical transformation are yet another inconsistency. Practical FX, as they often are in these lower-budgeted genre films, work much better than the CGI, which looks cartoony and undercuts the tension of multiple key sequences in Good Manner’s final act. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Non-Hollywood films need to think long and hard before using noticeable digital FX in their movies if they can’t dedicate millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of post-production work to them.

Here’s a good example of the film’s subtle hair and makeup FX, which I wish the film emphasized more.

Good Manner’s scattershot execution nonetheless remains interesting for its stylized composure and its directors’ firm creative control. As inconsistent as both its script and direction are, I wouldn’t be opposed to watching Rojas and Dutra’s other films in the future, unlike my initial reaction to Garza Cervera’s heavy-handed Bone Woman. This Brazilian contemplation on class differences, nature vs nurture, LGBT romance, unplanned pregnancies, and nontraditional families is interesting both for its filmmaking strengths as well as its weaknesses. Its social commentary isn’t hidden, but it also doesn’t preach at the expense of cinematographic style.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Recognizable in its color, tone, camerawork, and story structure, Good Manners showcases the power of letting your characters guide your story rather than the other way around, not to mention how those characters’ personalities can guide cinematographic composition.

However… the movie’s first half is a slog compared to the second, its flat camera angles and dull romantic subplot in particular; the CGI on a major character could’ve been replaced entirely by the competent hair and makeup FX; the ending is a headscratcher.


? To be honest, the filmmakers didn’t focus too much on the titular “good manners” in the story’s second half.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


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