By JULAI WHIPPLE
Starring Isabél Zuaa, Marjorie Estiano, and Miguel Lobo
Written and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra
According to Emily Post, the point of good manners is to make those around you feel more comfortable. Luckily, the writer/directors of GOOD MANNERS (AS BOAS MANEIRAS), Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, didn’t get the memo. GOOD MANNERS is a film that actively strives to make viewers uncomfortable—in its subject matter, in its insistence on moving from genre to genre, and in its meditative approach to the trials and tribulations of werewolf parenting. (Oh, and the musical numbers. We can’t forget those.) Is it a horror movie? If you’re afraid of giving birth to a werewolf, or finding yourself poor and disenfranchised in an uncaring world, or sitting through a musical, yes. By every other definition of the genre, probably not.
The idea behind GOOD MANNERS was “Two women raising a monster baby,” according to Rojas. Accordingly, the film opens on Clara (Isabél Zuaa) visiting a downtown São Paulo condo where a pregnant Ana (Marjorie Estiano) is interviewing nannies. It quickly becomes clear that Ana will hire Clara, even though she didn’t finish nursing school and has never cared for a child before—but not because she’s rooting for the underdog. Ana sees a chance to exploit Clara’s dark skin and one-step-up-from-the-shanties origin, quickly adding shopping, cleaning, and cooking duties to the job description.
As the relationship between Clara and Ana grows (and Ana just grows), we see Ana begin to regard Clara as an actual person. And as Clara prepares the house for the baby’s arrival, we can see that party girl Ana is in no way ready for any baby, particularly not the baby that’s coming. Exiled from her rich ranching family and quickly running out of money, Ana is open to anyone who will take responsibility for her—and it’s been hinted that Clara sees herself as a quitter. Not this time.
Which is very good, because Ana is sleepwalking, craving meat, and flashing bright golden peepers—all coinciding with the full moon. What follows is, of course, the birth of the “monster” (you don’t need me to give you the “when a werewolf and a woman love each other very much” talk, do you?). The birth scene is the goriest I’ve seen since 2016’s ANTIBIRTH, and functionally cracks the movie (and Ana) in two—the second half feels almost like a different film. The filmmakers move away from questioning class struggles, sexuality, and skin colour. The only question now is “If you’re raising a werewolf baby, is your job to protect him, or to protect others from him?”
The movie is a fairy tale in a dark, modern city setting. (The directors thank Angela Carter, a writer known for her reinterpretations of fairy tales, which begs comparison to 1984’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, another werewolf genre-bender based on her work.) It’s an exploration of the master/servant relationship dressed up like a lesbian love story. Defying all expectations, it’s a musical. Many of Clara’s emotions are expressed in songs sung by those around her—her landlady, a homeless woman—and while the songs could have been a ham-fisted director’s choice/chance to take a bathroom break during this 135-minute film, they manage to be a valuable plot device.
That’s the most surprising thing about GOOD MANNERS. Draw it as a Venn diagram, and the tiny overlap between werewolves and lesbian love and class struggles and Brazilian musical tradition shouldn’t be very big—but somehow, Dutra and Rojas have created a space where something wonderful and enchanting and troublesome happens.
Is it an uncomfortable space? Absolutely. But get there if you can. The view is like nothing else I’ve seen before.