Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s “Good Manners” (“As Boas Maneiras”) is one of the most daring films presented in the main competition at Locarno Festival. Although it is mainly a werewolf film, it uses a mix of genres, and moves from one to the other in an astonishingly seamless way. Encompassing drama, romance, horror, musical, and coming-of-age narrative, the result is a self-aware hybrid that is bound to split the audience. In fact, “Good Manners” is one of those films that can be considered either a messy and pretentious eulogy to trash movies, or a fearless experimental film.
The film starts with a not-so-subtle commentary on the class inequality of São Paulo, excellently portraying the difference between the affluent area of the city and the slums with stark visual contrasts. Later, the film turns its message into a not any less overt critique of the oppression of the outcast, embodied in the werewolf child. Although these themes are far from original, the film finds interesting ways to portray them through unconventional genres.
The film seems eager to use as many horror tropes as possible: vampire-like kisses, demonic foetuses, an empty shopping centre, a lynching,… Although this may seem one of the film’s many weaknesses to the more sceptical audiences, it is actually one of its strengths. By refusing to take itself seriously, the film can afford to include scenes that would otherwise feel out of context. The result is a self-aware WTF film filled with WTF moments, but in a good way. This, in fact, creates a parallel world where even “normal” people do weird things. By the time the people organise a witch-hunt-like lynching, the audience has been desensitised to weirdness, but is still surprised because the “sane” people are now insane. This encourages them to be on the outcasts’ side, and to see the intense ending as an emotional moment rather than the apex of the film’s trashy weirdness. Although the quality of the visual effects is heterogeneous and is much lower in the second half of the film (the hair on the grown-up werewolf looks especially fake), it never really looks like a cheap movie, partly thanks to the exceptional quality of Rui Poças’ cinematography.
Thus “Good Manners”, although definitely not a film for everyone, is an outstanding achievement. It focuses on social issues while at the same time exploring a more daring genre than a typical drama. The film manages to narrate a thrilling story full of twists, through stunning cinematography, excellent performances, and an ever-shifting mood that grips the audience from start to finish despite its considerable length of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra should be proud of this accomplishment, and it will be interesting to see how their brave unconventional style will develop in their next films.