Tag Archives: Juliana Rojas

‘Good Manners’ Is a Strange, Fractured Fairytale

In Good Manners, Sao Paulo, Brazil, is transformed into a spooky fantasy land. This is an elegantly woven story that blends a lesbian werewolf thriller and a horror musical. It carefully threads genres while spotlighting race and class divides across the country. The enigmatic performances of Marjorie Estiano and Isabél Zuaa under the direction of Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas leave the audience wondering what they came away with. A film so bizarre in its attempts to pack in two stories, Good Manners follows a young pregnant woman and what first appears to be her search for a nanny.

There is something supernatural and wonderfully vulnerable about young motherhood that makes it a tenant of horror films. Women often lose their sense of self and share themselves with something less than human. This film is dedicated to exploring queer motherhood; it fully embodies the unique fear of parental failure and the horror of pregnancy. It delves into the mess and fraught of queer women being pregnant and emerges a breath of fresh air in the queer canon. It is frightening, albeit effective, in showing normative structures and how deeply ingrained and conceited they are. 

Clara is a quiet, introverted nurse in dire need of employment. She takes a job with the young affluent Ana, who is soon to be a sole parent. The two get off to a rocky start when Ana discovers that Clara has no references for previous work. However, Clara comes to her aid when she is in bouts of pain and somehow eases her suffering, so Ana hesitantly gives her the job. But what starts as a slow and tense relationship between a young woman and her nanny soon unravels into a deep rocky romance marred with tragedy. 

The first act keeps the viewer on edge, unable to clearly decipher what is off about the dynamic between the two women and where the power balance truly lies. One often wonders where the story is heading; will it be satanic fetus worship, a parasite study into the relationship between the caregiver and employer, or the union of both? The plot thickens as Ana and her country music videos offer a glimpse into a whole new direction that no one expects. 

Ana assumes poor Clara is desperate enough to take on menial jobs and become a nanny and maid. However, this assumption does not factor in Clara’s sense of self-worth and quiet dignity. As the film progresses, the two build a beautiful friendship. Zuaa and Estiano’s performances as an emotional duet unfold the relationship and an underlying chasm of differences that encapsulates their lives. The film drops hints of a rupture; something dark lurks. The father is unknown; his mystery may be tied to Ana’s penchant for raw meat, which quickly devolves into feeding on animals in the dead of night. 

Good Manners weaves an unpredictable story using furry animatronics and lesbian representation, doing so with humor, elegance, and blue shades of moonlight. Rui Pocas cinematography paints the city as a tower block interwoven by enchanted wood which takes a life of its own, eerily similar to the bad wolf in children’s story books. This film is grounded in 1950s Hollywood aesthetics, with its use of high ceilings in Ana’s duplex, matte backdrops, and artificial lighting which creates a sense of a hothouse. The clothes that these two women wear are meant to showcase the class difference, as well as the shopping bags that Ana is seen carrying. This film is ambitious in its design. 

As these strange happenings increase, tragedy hits, and the story takes on a different tone and style. Clara tries to rationalize Ana’s abnormal displays until, one night, she comes home to find her writhing in bed in agony from her pregnancy. The infant ruptures from Ana’s belly, killing her from blood loss. Clara, filled with remorse, decides to raise the werewolf child.

Seven years later, Clara is doing her best to raise the child, but Joel seems so different; he gets sick once every month, and his mother has him on a strict diet. The neighbors and classmates grow more suspicious, while Joel remains a sweet little boy who trusts his mother. All hell breaks loose when the landlady cooks Joel a steak. He goes into an angry fit and finds the picture of his mother, demanding answers on his history. When Clara is unable to answer the question about his father’s whereabouts, Joel and his friend stay out late in search of him. 

However, everything changes that night when Joel accidentally kills his friend during the full moon. Upon his return, the landlady sees him in his natural werewolf state, prompting Clara to flee, while the landlady wants to do a cleansing. Joel, yearning for a normal childhood, refuses to leave, locking Clara in the little bedroom as he returns to school. However, as the festival begins, the moon is still full, and he is forced to turn right in front of his friend. Clara, having been freed, arrives before his next killing, shoots him, and removes the belt. She then takes him with the intention of fleeing while a crowd gathers outside seeking justice. 

Good Manners is the best lesbian werewolf fairy tale horror musical ever made. Yes, this movie is all of those things, plus a commentary on race and class differences in Brazil, on top of a story about the nuances of queer motherhood. There’s a lot going on, but somehow it all just works. It’s a gorgeous, at times terrifying, at times sexy movie that is unforgettable, to say the least. It deserves as prominent a spot in the canon of horror cinema as it does the canon of lesbian cinema.