Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras) (2017)


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This is a strange film.  It changes mood, pace and genre several times, beginning as a straightforward drama then veering into romance then horror then fantasy then fairytale, with the occasional musical number thrown in.

The story is set in São Paulo and directed and written by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. Clara (Isabél Zuaa) applies to be a nanny for wealthy, pregnant Ana (Marjorie Estiano). All seems normal and, as they become closer, Ana admits she has been cast off by her family. The father of her baby is not her fiancé but a man she met in a bar who then disappeared and her pregnancy has caused a rift in her family as well as the end of her engagement. As Clara and Ana begin a tentative relationship, the full moon at night causes Ana to sleepwalk. And her eyes turn orange.

Under this ordinary story lurks a darker tale and when Ana’s baby is born, we see the extent of his strangeness. Clara, horrified, can’t help but take responsibility for him. Fast forward seven years and Clara has a regimented and, from the outside, normal life as she works to deny the child, Joel (Miguel Lobo), his true nature. Played very straight, it’s an amusing take on the matter of fact way parents will do anything to ensure their child fits in. Her strategy works while he is young but an unforeseen circumstance starts a chain of events that Clara is helpless to stop.

Stylistically, the film keeps shifting gears and this works well to keep you slightly off balance. It works best in the early scenes of drama and then horror that are delightfully macabre rather than being truly scary. There’s even an odd song thrown in and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of this as it in enhances the fairytale feel. The directors were influenced by early Disney movies and the musical elements help cast the characters as archetypes and the story as fable.

An interesting choice is to clearly show the ‘monster’ through, I suspect, a mix of puppetry and CGI. It doesn’t quite work as it’s overly unrealistic and out of keeping with the more painterly and poetic art direction. The audience’s laughter whenever it was shown help to defuse tension but also increased emotional separation from the story.

The second half of the movie, with Joel as a seven-year-old, feels more fairytale and fantastical. Their apartment is big and richly coloured, with hidden rooms and a jungle of plants outside the door. The landlady Dona Amelia (Cida Moreira) feels plucked straight from a storybook, as to some of Joel’s school friends and teachers.

The final scenes are some of the best – look for the mob’s flaming torches – and the final shot was laughable but satisfying.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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