GOOD MANNERS — Sydney Film Festival Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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good manners posterOver recent years, South American filmmakers have consolidated their status as genre filmmaking ground-breakers, building on a long history of horror film production in the region that is far too often overlooked. Written and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, the 2017 Brazilian film Good Manners is a perfect example of a visionary treatment of often hackneyed generic clichés that rejuvenates the genre into something not just aesthetically beautiful and entertaining, but also ideologically and emotionally very powerful. Premiering at the Locarno Film Festival, it has played at a number of festivals around the world until it came to my attention at the Sydney Film Festival in Australia. Continue reading…

The Portuguese-language film is part fairy tale, part lesbian love story, and part social realist drama as it seamlessly blends werewolf mythology with single motherhood, live action with – in brief yet spectacular moments – animation. The film begins as two women from different class, racial and cultural backgrounds find themselves living together, the pregnant, privileged Ana (Marjorie Estiano) and the nanny she has hired to look after her soon-to-arrive newborn. This is the film’s main character, Clara (Isabél Zuaa), takes the job out of desperation, and her relationship from Ana develops from hesitant observance to a deep emotional and sexual connection. Discovering more about the conception of the baby, Clara begins to have insights into the strange twist her life will take as that child will grow in a culture where being an animalized other is something that becomes almost a full-time job for Clara to control.

Zuaa’s performance is unquestioningly what tethers the film’s more fantastic aspects to the all-too-real everyday experience which she must negotiate to maintain her unusual status quo. Haunting, profound and genuinely intriguing, the film at times evokes the sense of being a contemporary Brazilian reworking of the kinds of movies producer Val Lewton was responsible for in 1940s Hollywood like Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People and Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise’s Curse of the Cat People. But Good Manners is still very much its own beast: a moving and unexpected love story, a werewolf film with inescapable political bite, and – perhaps most of all – one of the most vivid, memorable and original treatments of the trials, challenges and joys of motherhood itself.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).