GOOD MANNERS (d. Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, 2017, Brazil/France, 135min)
I don’t want you to know too much about this one. Not for any highbrow reason but GOOD MANNERS contains so many delicious elements it would be a shame to go in too well informed.
What I will say is this: see GOOD MANNERS as soon as you can on as big a screen as possible. It’s an ambitious Brazilian fairytale with all the tools of the cinema, ancient and modern, thrown into it. Rather than being a tired stew of familiar flavours, it uses these tools intelligently to find pitch-perfect ways of telling a story that veers into the extremes. Every creative decision seduces your suspension of disbelief as the directors lure you ever deeper into the woods. I first saw it at the BFI London Film Festival in 2017 and was sat perched on the edge of my seat, face radiant with delight, when the final scenes dropped.
“It’s so good to be near someone who likes you.”
What’s it about? A care worker (Clara – Isabél Zuaa) gets recruited as a live-in nanny to help her employer (Ana – Marjorie Estiano) through her first pregnancy. Across potential barriers of race, wealth and class their odd couple relationship evolves into something deeper. Strange behaviours – and yet darker mysteries – start to spiral. The pregnancy goes full term. The story then takes a dramatic leap forward to when the sickly boy (Joel – Miguel Lobo) is 7 and at school. GOOD MANNERS deals with the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood as parenting decisions are tested to the extreme. Raising a child is truly a labour of love.
“Follow the breadcrumbs. // Don’t get lost along the way.”
So far, so São Paulo slice of life… But we know this is a fairytale from the opening flock wallpaper titles to the unicorn music box in the unborn baby’s bedroom. Along the way, the directors brilliantly reinforce both the artifice and the flesh-and-blood reality of the universe they have created. The batty ensemble cast of neighbours and co-workers adds extra Almodóvar. From every angle and every beautiful frame, this is a compelling tale that is at times both touching and sensational. Co-directors Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas aren’t afraid to shock you.
“That’s no food for a kid.”
GOOD MANNERS is exactly the kind of film I go to festivals to catch: characterful, contemporary filmmaking, unafraid to push both film and social boundaries. The official programme notes described GOOD MANNERS as ‘innovative’. I prefer the slightly less hubristic, but no less complimentary, ‘inventive’.
Curiously, BFI panicked after audience response to the premiere screening, sending dire warnings of the graphic content before subsequent screenings, and posting signs in the foyer to leave you in no doubt… Even more curiously, the film has largely disappeared from UK markets which is a tragedy of distribution.
GOOD MANNERS is far from an exercise in casual extremity. Rather, it leaves you with that feeling of being fully satisfied by something you haven’t seen before and can’t wait to see again.
IN BRIEF: Leaves you with that feeling of being fully satisfied by something you haven’t seen before & can’t wait to see again.
QUOTE: “Big eyes. Big mouth. Big hands. He’s a strong boy, Ana.”
An earlier version of this review was posted at radiantcircus.com