Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans.
But I urge you to experience this film for yourself, and you’ll see that the first half is a very art-house, mysterious, character-driven piece (somehow reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby). And that the second half of the picture continues the same story and characters, but places them in some sort of fantasy/fairy tale/fable/horror film amalgamation – and that this switch works.
And it works well.
Good Manners is a new Brazilian/French/German co-production which takes the tropes of the werewolf tale and lifts those ideas to a very unique and intriguing new level.
At the heart of these two “separate but connected” stories, is the bond between two broken and lonely people – and the loyalty which reaches beyond death.
Out of work and down on her luck aspiring nurse Clara (Isabel Zuaa) takes a nanny/housekeeper job with mother-to-be Ana (Marjorie Estiano) – in Ana’s lavish high-rise San Paolo apartment. Despite Clara’s seemingly cold demeanor, the two women quickly become close friends. But Ana’s odd nocturnal behaviors (particularly on evenings with a full moon) put pressure on both of them – until the fateful night where Ana finally gives birth. The film then jumps ahead to see how Clara’s life has drastically changed since that particular night of the full moon.
The special effects are quite good, but I’d give some extra kudos to the practical puppetry effects, over the CGI creatures (which are not bad, but are too clearly computer-generated).
The first reveal of Ana’s baby is so perfectly conceived and executed, you’ll be mesmerized by the entire sequence. It’s heart-wrenching, haunting and terribly emotional. And much of that magic comes from the mind-bending practical effects present. This sequence is without a doubt – the best thing in the entire film.
There are also some impressive make-up effects on little Joel (Miguel Lobo) – when we see the aftermath of a full moon. Seamless and effective, I found myself leaning into the screen and squinting – trying to understand just how they did it.
Technically, the film is an all around winner. It’s beautifully shot, with a wonderful mix of naturalistic lighting and over-the-top spotlights. Despite the many moods the film portrays, the film never feels disjointed. And it’s rare that a film can hop around in moods and styles, and still work so perfectly.
And the choice to offer up some necessary exposition (via Ana’s tale of how she arrived at this position) with some beautiful and frightening animation – is brilliant. Heck, filmmakers make note. Gotta get some background history out quickly, but don’t want to just shoot an actor telling a tale? Throw in some animation!
I was in love with some of the climactic moments which were clearly lifted out of the old Universal Monster movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s – with a modern twist. Instead of villagers with fiery torches, storming the township to take on the monster, Good Manners find villagers storming the township to find the monster, lighting the way with cell phone illumination.
Clara’s landlady/neighbor is a musician, often found sitting in front of her keyboard, singing to her cat. And the film has a magical tangent (only a couple of times) into an honest-to-goodness musical. Pay close attention, as every single lyric holds great importance to the overall story. It was a surprise to find musical numbers within the film, but also a genuine delight.
Performances are the key component for the film’s success. There’s an innate and authentic connection between the two leads. It’s a marvel to watch the tepid early interactions between Clara and Ana, blossom into something much deeper. There’s just enough backstory for both characters, to make us believe that their friendship/love would naturally occur. And to see both actors really display the minute steps toward one another – in their facial expressions and body language – is a delight to behold. Even without the supernatural elements of the story – I’d still be on board to know and discover the on-going relationship of these two characters. And that’s quite a testament to the acting work of these two actors.
My personal favorite performance (and the corresponding character) comes from Cida Moreira as Clara’s landlady/neighbor Amelia. It’s such a richly drawn and kooky character, and Moreira brings a genuine busybody comedy, mixed with real concern and love for both Clara and Joel. Whether she’s cooking for little Joel, or practicing on her keyboard, you’ll love every moment where Amelia takes the screen.
My one and only complaint (if you can call it that) – and which keeps the film from a perfect score – was the fact that I never completely surrendered to the film. Don’t get me wrong, it works on almost every level, but a final, deeper connection to the story and the characters – never came to be.
I mentioned the raw power of the “birth” scene… had the film found that strength and emotion all throughout, I might have upped the ante as far as a final score.
But then again – the film works so well moving between lighter fare, musical numbers and gory horror. While I know I can’t have it both ways, I’ve made it my critic’s choice to save a perfect score for a film which I would consider almost transcendental. Good Manners is brilliant, but it never transported me – at least not completely. Does that make sense?
Good Manners is destined to become a genre classic. While many times I’ll personally disagree with the idea of multi-tonality, if it’s done right (as is the case here), then you’ve gotta give it up.
Strong performances, a lovely story and a deft mix of styles, tones and genres – Good Manners should find easy placement on my “Best Horror of 2018” year-end list.
The film is scheduled for a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles on August 17th, 2018 (it already opened in New York City). Stay tuned to this space for additional DVD/VOD release information.