Grounded in an only-half fantasy Sao Paulo of Pharaonic high-rises tower rearing into the sky, gigantic malls and aseptic homes, but awash with the palette of fantasy, “Good Manners” is a step-up in production values and ambition for Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, co-directors of Cannes Un Certain Regard contender “Hard Labor.”
It turns on Clara, a penniless and lonely nurse hired as a nanny for Ana, a wealthy, pregnant young woman. But something is clearly wrong with the unborn child, especially on nights of full moon. A film that builds into a tragically truncated coming of age story, a dark werewolf fairy tale, laced by reflections on class and race in modern-day Brazil, “Good Manners” is above all perhaps a tribute to the enduring near supernatural power of maternal love. Rojas and Dutra’s second joint-feature, “Good Manners” is produced by Brazil’s Dezenove Som e Imagens, and France’s Good Fortune Films and Urban Factory. UDI handles world sales.
Rojas, Dutra and Dezenove producer Sara Silver talked to Variety about the film, which world premiered in Locarno’s International Competition section:
“Good Manners” continues your mix of genre and (at least for some foreign markets) art-house, though there are plenty of mainstream tropes in the film. Do you see genre and art-house, or non-popcorn film, as a particularly attractive mix and, if so, why?
Rojas, Dutra: We grew up watching all kinds of genre movies, especially horror, thrillers, musicals, melodramas and early Disney fantasies. When we met we were at the end of our teens, and we started going to film festivals and getting in touch with the work of Straub and Huillet, Haneke and several other “non-popcorn” contemporary artists. For us, there was never hierarchy. Carpenter is no worse or better than Kawase because of the toolbox each of them chose to work with. That being said, we do have an attraction for mixing those tools, and even mixing the genres themselves. It doesn’t come from a need to challenge classic narrative – we are passionate about the classic filmmakers – but it makes our work less dependent on the conventional or expected forms and also more unpredictable and exciting for us as creators.
You may already have answered this but the film is of course in its way a coming of age story, which takes in themes of maternity and diversity.
Rojas, Dutra: We never thought about it precisely as a coming of age story, but you’re right. The three main characters go through a process of self-understanding that forces them to leave behind a version of themselves. In the case of Joel, it is all very clear, since it relates to aspects of the werewolf folklore and to the process of a child growing up and getting to explore his own body. In the case of Clara and Ana, it involves breaking barriers of class and race to find connection and love.
The color palette of the film is particularly important. Could you talk about how you constructed it?
We wanted to create a dreamy version of São Paulo, using old-school matte paintings for skylines and full moon nights. We were also concerned about the ruptured nature of the story, about its two parts, and the differences between center and periphery of the city. Production designer Fernando Zuccolotto researched the fairy tale universe and was inspired by the work of Disney artist Mary Blair to come up with the palette below, which uses the idea of castle (rich center) and woods (poor periphery) to enhance the contrast inherent in our story. Cinematographer Rui Poças was also building the visuals with us – strong mood, observational camera work and, of course, the constant light of the full moon.
Access to great VFX is of course one driver of the current international genre scene. But how were the special effects created in “Good Manners”?
“Good Manners” is a French co-production, so the job of visual effects was done between Brazil and France and involved different companies and artists. The matte paintings were done in Brazil by Eduardo Schaal, and connected to the live-action shots by the Quanta Post team. In France, Atelier 69 was responsible for creating the pregnant belly of Ana and also baby Joel. That was done on set, and the animatronic baby was so beloved by the cast and crew that there were friendly fights regarding who would keep it after production wrapped. And Mikros Image, also a French company, worked with care to preserve Miguel Lobo’s acting in the CGI version of Joel. We were not a high-budget film, so all of these elements were planned during pre-production, and the FX teams were always present on set to guarantee the procedures would not swallow or suffocate the storytelling.
When it came to directing the film, what were your basic guidelines?
Our goal was to tell a contemporary fairy tale – a form that we love very much, especially in the way it manages to be mystical but somehow very grounded and direct. Most folktales we listened to or read while growing up were collected from poor communities and mostly from women narrators – in spite of some collectors themselves, such as the brothers Grimm, being man. We wanted to bring magic to this film but keep the straightforward and also whimsical approach we knew from these tales. We were also deeply connected to our central subjects: maternity, transformation of the body, childhood. The way Disney mixed horror, fantasy, music, and folklore while approaching themes like envy and loss of innocence in his early animated features was of big inspiration to us.
Globo Filmes co-produces “Good Manners.” Where will the film be seen in and outside Brazil?
Sara Silveira: Yes, Globo Filmes is the Brazilian co-producer of the film. We also have support from different public sources in the country, via [Brazilian agency] Ancine. We intend to show the film in Brazilian festivals in the months to come, and are waiting for answers from the Mostra de São Paulo and the Rio Festival, among others. This will be the initial platform for the later wide release by our Brazilian distributor, Imovision. Being in competition in Locarno and also in Sitges is very important; it created big interest from other festivals around the world, and more announcements will be made soon. From Locarno, we’ll refine the international release strategy with our French partners and world sales agent Urban Distribution International.
There are clear signs of a building Latino genre scene, whether individuals’ crossover success in Hollywood, or production volume, prizes, and dedicated markets and festivals in Latin America. What do you see as the current state of Latino or Latin American genre production? What has it achieved, and what are its challenges?
There is a certain amount of genre movies being produced in Latin America, but not all of them get around. We could mention “La Casa Muda”, which got an American remake, and also director Fede Alvarez, who came from Uruguay to the U.S. and made a strong movie called “Don’t Breathe.” In Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles are doing “Bacurau” and Gabriela Amaral Almeida is finishing her “Father’s Shadow.” We all have to face the expectations of audiences regarding so-called “world cinema” – what kind of story is expected from which place in the planet. We also know that non-English genre movies get some rejection from part of the audience – an online commenter wrote about the trailer of “Good Manners”: “No way I’m watching this movie that is not in English”. So there are challenges, of course, but there is also a bunch of creative people ready to face them, and a good number of audiences waiting for this films.
Sara Silveira: The idea of making a genre film came from my directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutta, with whom we have produced their first film “Hard Labor”, already in the same line. Both have introduced me to this genre and I really liked the experience. Genre has its own guidelines, but there are several ways to work with it. And Juliana and Marco’s genre work here is a delicate, affective and sensitive werewolf story. And this pleases me. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of genre in Latin American cinema, but in Brazil production is not yet so large. The large budgetary needs and technical aspects of a certain type of genre movie create some difficulties. But technology is becoming more and more accessible and we might see more such movies very soon. But, yes, it is indeed a different kind of filmmaking, and a big challenge for both producers and directors.