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Good Manners: a Brazilian werewolf in Sao Paulo

Hybrid monster-at-large story is a perfect allegory for the country’s political turmoil

17 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Marjorie Estiano and Isabél Zuaa in Good Manners

GOOD MANNERS
Directed by Marco Dutra
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆

THIS dark, comic, satirical film takes itself very seriously – and the result is a genre-crossing masterpiece.

By taking a classically outlandish monster-at-large premise but rewriting it as a social drama, Brazilian director Marco Dutra has made a perfect allegory for his country’s current political woes.

We meet Clara (Isabel Zuaa) as she attends a job interview in a swanky apartment in down town Sao Paulo.

Well-off Ana (Marjorie Estiano) is pregnant and alone – she wants a live-in maid who can help out, and when the baby arrives muck in with the nursery.

We learn that Ana is estranged from her wealthy landowning family, while Clara’s deep silence and thoughtfulness suggests she too has a past that causes distress.

As the pair get to know one another, their relationship develops into something else – but as the birth date approaches, Ana’s mysterious sleep walking and a lust for blood twists the story on its head and sets us off into a marvellous second half.

The elements that create good film are here. Dutra starts us off with a compelling tale of a relationship between two women from very different backgrounds who come together and find under outward appearances they are in a remarkably similar position and have similar needs.

There is a lovely sense of originality in how Good Manners looks and sounds. The operatic warbling of Clara’s landlady Mrs Amelia (Cida Moreira) provides the occasional contrast to the foreboding atmosphere.

The luxury of Ana’s flat contrasts to the conditions of Mrs Amelia’s home. At one point we are treated to a graphic novel-type interlude as Ana explains how she became pregnant.

Its messages are clear, and fit in with the battle at the soul of Brazil today. We have racial and class tensions, liberal versus conservative, and all while we are hearing a story that has the tragic air that is at the heart of a similar classic, An American Werewolf In London.

This is a film full of subtle light and shadow, and to cap it all, it has one of the funniest looking little and horribly convincing werewolves (Miguel Lobo) ever committed to celluloid. This only adds to the sense this film is a hybrid, and a very successful one: at times a social satire, then a horror film, then a deeply tragic love story…

A keep-you-on-your-toes of a treat.

GHOSTS OF WAR
Directed by Eric Bress
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆

Billy Zane in Ghosts of War

THIS is such a strangely pitched offering that it feels like it was written as a game of consequences, making little overall sense, but being more intriguing because of it.

We meet a group of US infantry tramping across Occupied France in 1944. They are ordered to head to a chateau and relieve another US unit.

They arrive to find the creepy old place, recently a Nazi HQ, has a past that won’t stay there.

Ghosts of War veers from being a Woman In Black-style ghost yarn to The Dirty Dozen – but eventually settles on something akin to an episode of Black Mirror.

It has at its heart a confusingly told message about morality dictating behaviour, the concept of eternal time and seeking redemption.

JB Priestley once told a story how purgatory would be getting on the Tube at Chalk Farm and then never reaching Belsize Park – being stuck in a carriage with the same faces for ever and ever.

Director Bress plays a little with the same idea here, of hell being a semi-dream state where your existence is played out on an endless loop – think Groundhog Day, without Andie MacDowell – an attempt to give a deeper meaning to this sloppily written piece, whose merits are based on its originality but little else.

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