[Seattle International Film Festival] Good Manners (2017) - Reviewed

The Brazilian drama Good Manners is the dark, fairy-tale-esque, story of a nurse hired to care for a pregnant woman with a big secret. It has elements of horror, but never truly becomes a horror film. Its strengths are the performances, the vivid colors and a very impressive control of tone. It is a story that is a little too sensitive to handle being pushed over into thriller territory. The filmmakers are able to avoid this by keeping the pace slow. They focus on the themes and relationships instead of gore. Though the movie feels a tad long by the end, its dreamlike mood never ceases to be captivating.

The production certainly has the look of a nightmarish fairy-tale come to life. Everything seems slightly heightened, from the sets to the colors. The use of colors is especially well done. Reds are really intense, specifically the red of blood. It is extra effective because the camera does not linger on it or overuse it. It makes the violence, when it occurs, very unsettling.

The movie is not particularly subtle. Even if you do not already know what is going on after looking at the poster, you will likely figure out Ana’s secret before it is revealed. This is not a negative. That approach is perfect for Good Manners because it adds to the haunting tone. It also builds drama for the main character, who has no idea what she has gotten herself into.

The performances given by the two lead actresses are well-modulated to fit the escalating emotions. Marjorie Estiano is scared and lonely as the pregnant Ana. She is terrified of what is happening in her body, while being hopeful that raising a child is exactly what she needs to turn her life around. She is quite good, but Isabél Zuaa is excellent as the nurse, Clara. She is also lonely, as well as poor and desperate. The way she reacts as her situation gets more complicated is surprisingly relatable. She never allows her performance to become showy, which would have been an easy mistake to make. She grounds the film by being its emotional center.

The relationship between the women is extremely important to the movie. The bond they build sets up the entire second half. Viewers must be able to believe in the connection made by Clara and Ana since it is what motivates Clara to make a couple of pretty major decisions. The filmmakers make sure to give them plenty of time at the beginning to establish themselves, both individually and together. I actually cared about the two women which is a huge step toward me being invested when the plot really kicks in.

Good Manners is a good story, skillfully told. At its best, its story, tone, pace and acting are completely mesmerizing. There are moments where, perhaps, the same point is made more than is necessary. But, overall, this is a highly intriguing film presented in a style seen too rarely these days. It is a fairy-tale first, drama second, with both pieces making the other stronger. This is one to seek out. 

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-Ben Pivoz