Originally published as part of a weekly quarantine column at Cinema Tropical in July 2020.
MUBI is currently running a very interesting series on contemporary Brazilian cinema, featuring ten films, at least in the United States. It is a great chance to catch up with some titles that have had successful trajectories in the international film festival and arthouse circuit. I have already written a longer piece on the opening film of the series – João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora’s The Dead and the Others (Chuva é Cantoria na Aldeia dos Mortos, 2018), and the closing film (which premieres in 46 days) is Gustavo Vinagre and Rodrigo Carneiro’s The Blue Flower of Novalis (2018), which had its New York premiere at Veredas (as well as other movies by three other directors included in this series).
Besides recommending the entire series, I’m taking this opportunity to emphasize the premiere of one of the best and most surprising feature films of the past years, which has just been unlocked in the platform: Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ Good Manners / As Boas Maneiras (2017). Premiered at Locarno and released in the U.S. following screenings at New Directors/New Films, Good Manners pushes the duo’s lasting interest in social horror toward an astonishing combination of heterogeneous aesthetic territories – from its Disney-esque décor to the gasping musical sequence.
Good Manners is an intricate recomposition of the Brazilian social fabric into this tapestry of genres. Echoing Robin Wood’s definition of the monster in horror cinema as a return of the repressed, in the film, the economic, cultural, and social changes promoted during the Lula and Dilma Roussef administrations come back in a disconcerting combination of sweetness and violence in the body of a new social subject that reconnects contemporary Brazil with a deeply-rooted folk imaginary. In a combination of low-tech stylization and hi-tech tackiness, Dutra and Rojas give shape to the country’s rich and endless contradictions.
But what makes Good Manners an impressive highlight in the vast and not always exciting world of art house horror is that the allegorical and the metaphorical do not come at the expense of the body: mood and atmosphere are carefully orchestrated as hanging thrills; the central melodrama does not shy away from tears; and the explosion of gore promises a powerful translation of collective release. Beautifully photographed by Rui Poças (Zama, The Ornithologist, etc) and edited with light-handed precision by Caetano Gotardo (director of Your Bones and Your Eyes), Good Manners creates a world in which the very special chemistry in between actors Marjorie Estiano and Isabél Zuaa alone carries the weight of centuries of destruction, trauma, and love.