Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras)
Though oddly specific, enough titles exist to easily make pregnancy horror and coming-of-age werewolf horror their own subgenres. And now the two have successfully combined in the film Good Manners
(As Boas Maneiras
), a twisted tale about the bounds of love, devotion, and hunger that, to a certain extent, addresses the class divide in Brazil.
Written and directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, the Portuguese-language film follows Clara (Isabél Zuaa), a struggling nurse looking for work in São Paulo. She finds it with Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a single pregnant woman shunned by her family and living beyond her means in an upscale apartment. At first, spoiled Ana exploits the desperately poor Clara by having her do demeaning tasks unrelated to her job as a soon-to-be live-in nanny. However, as Clara guides Ana through her difficult ordeal, the two women grow closer both emotionally and romantically, which leads to Clara noticing her employer's increasingly bizarre behavior each month during the full moon. When Ana does finally give birth – in a gruesome, yet mercifully short scene – Clara faces a difficult decision that could change her life forever.
So goes the eventful first half of the film. The second half finds Clara years later, managing a pharmacy and raising Ana’s son, Joel (Miguel Lobo), as her own. At first, the two appear happy, even as Clara restricts his diet and activities, and chains him in a secret secure room whenever the full moon returns. But when Joel begins to question his true origins, it leads to an act of defiance that could spell doom for the pair.
Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras)
The film features few scares, instead relying on elements of body horror to comment on the various anxieties affecting its characters, from those of class and racial disparity (in one scene, Clara, who is Black, is told to take the “service elevator” when she first arrives at Ana’s building), to sexual and parental. As opposed to going for truly terrifying, it cultivates a magic realist tone bolstered especially by musical numbers in the style of cautionary lullabies, a charming motif effortlessly woven throughout.
But the performances are what really stand out. Estiano imbues Ana, a woman who deals with stress by dancing to Zumba-esque exercise videos, with an unflappable spirit left over from her former, carefree life of privilege. As Clara, Zuaa undeniably shoulders the film by exuding quiet strength and tenderness, while the young Lobo breaks your heart as a little boy unequipped to handle his awful fate. It also serves to mention Cida Moreira as Clara’s landlady, Dona Amélia, a kooky, no-nonsense woman armed with a housedress, a keyboard, and a loyal housecat.
While the film does have its weak spots, including some out-of-place CGI, they’re worth ignoring, as Dutra and Rojas deliver a smart, sensitive film with just enough gore to keep it interesting.
screens during the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival on Friday, November 2. The event includes a post-screening Skype Q&A with Rojas and a discussion moderated by Pitt Film Studies professor, Dr. Dana Och. 6:30 p.m. 5032 Forbes Ave., Oakland. $5 students and seniors/$10 general. cmu.edu/faces