The werewolf is one of cinema’s long-standing movie monsters. Along with vampires, witches, and mummified corpses, werewolves have been stalking hapless victims in a variety of guises since as far back as 1913. Whilst there are a handful of truly great werewolf films, for some reason this monster, more than most, struggles to translate well on film. It never seems to stop film folks from trying though, the latest being Portuguese-language film Good Manners,or As Boas Maneiras in its native tongue.
Directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, the film plays out over two distinctly different halves. The first sees lonely and broke nurse Clara (Isabél Zuaa) hired by the young and wealthy Ana (Marjorie Estiano) to assist with her first pregnancy, and later on the baby. Initially, the pair are quite an odd-couple, but they soon bond over their isolation and embark on a tender relationship. As Ana’s pregnancy progresses, Clara realises that Ana is suffering from a violent sleep disorder that only occurs each month during the full moon. As the birth looms ever nearer, catastrophic events unfurl one evening, events that leave Clara’s life forever changed. The second half of the film should be left as detail-free as possible, so as to not cause any spoilers.
Whilst I won’t share any details about the second half, I will say that the events that occur just prior to that, at pretty much exactly the halfway point in the film’s run time, and are the stand-out moments of the film. It alters the narrative from that moment, the plot morphing from one dynamic to another seamlessly. These moments also feature one of the most disturbing sequences I have ever witnessed; it will sear itself into the brain of any whom watches it, and offers a very interesting spin on an old genre.
The acting is powerfully restrained. Isabél Zuaa gives a truly remarkable performance as Clara. She takes the viewer on a journey as we watch her morph from timid mouse, to ferocious lioness, whilst all the time maintaining a solid emotional connection with the audience.
The direction too is nicely nuanced. There are also some very clever devices utilised to further the story, a highlight being Ana’s recounting to Clara of how she met the father of her unborn child. This story could have so easily been told in traditional flashback, but here it’s revealed through beautifully painted pictures. It adds a sophistication that isn’t typically seen in a film dealing with lycanthrophy. It’s also pleasing to note that the love affair between the two females isn’t portrayed as salacious or seedy, instead it’s handled in a much more tender and intimate manner.
Kudos also needs to go to the effects team. To pull of that aforementioned disturbing sequence must have taken a whole lot of work, and it plays out on screen perfectly. Later on there’s also what is arguably the best werewolf transformation since the great An American Werewolf in London. These transformations are tricky to master, but the team here do it fantastically, and young actor Miguel Lobo really sells their work.
A modern, urban take on the werewolf story, Good Manners injects a lot of new and interesting ideas into an old dog. It falls somewhere between art-house and genre cinema, which though an odd combination, is wholly captivating.
This review was first published on THN. Good Manners is available to watch now on Mubi.