Known primarily as a lesbian werewolf movie, Good Manners transforms rapidly into a film about chosen family. It begins with a nurse, Clara (Isabél Zuaa), being hired by wealthy single mother Ana (Marjorie Estiano). The story at first has all appearances of moving toward class comparisons, but after subtle hints at Clara’s sexuality, shifts into a love story.
The two women decide to forge forward with Ana’s impending child, them against the world. But as Ana’s wolf-like night time cravings and wanderings worsen, the story shifts again. This time the adjustment is a jarring one. Characters we had just grown accustomed to are rapidly progressed and story arcs abandoned as quickly as Clara’s personal tragedy.
There are many unanswered questions in Good Manners, but this is also one of its charms. The movie takes place in the present, even when it time hops forward many years. The only view into the past that we have is from characters’ point of view and a singular, animated, inset. This flashback is still narrated by a character, and also brings home another central point of the film: the support of women.
The man whose one night stand wreaked all the havoc is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Ana has been abandoned by her father and Clara raises a child on her own, with the help of her cat lady landlord (Cida Moreira). Beyond the relationship central to the story, it is a film that carefully genders its narrative. Clara, an apparent loner with no ties to family, takes of the role of mother, carefully planning her entire life around young Joel’s needs.
The overall absence of men in the film is not felt, but the binary roles enforce a kind of cold/warm and evil/good opposition that bears more criticism. Ana’s father provides money but is controlling and absent: cold. The “father” of a nearby town, the priest, kicks off certain events in the film, possibly abusing his position while betraying it: evil. The women in the film are mothers, first Ana, who refuses an abortion, then Clara who becomes a mother herself: warm.
But then where does that leave our impetuous little boy, Joel? His best friend is so full of bravado and pride in his father the way so many little boys are, and when Joel acts out by taking off, his admired but lackadaisical father essentially shrugs. We do not get much of a commentary here, but while the world is apparently not kind to women, the narrative is downright cruel to this little boy.
Spectacle does not play as large a role in this monster story as other werewolf tales: the transformations are not drawn out or ground breaking. But it is gory, bright, and brightly colored that is both memorable and significant. The film’s coloring always appears more cheery than what is happening in it. This assures us that even at its lowest points, there is more on the horizon for these characters. It’s something that was sorely needed to get through this beautiful, but deeply tragic story.