‘Good Manners’ a modern twist on classic horror story

The werewolf is one of the most enduring and diverse creature to come from horror mythology. Many countries have some variation on the myth, often representing an aspect of their folklore, including Brazil. This aspect inspired directors Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas to create their festival hit Good Manners, a darkly comic story of romance and motherhood, which is ultimately a deeply moving story of otherness. Dutra and Rojas also created a stunning piece of cinema which fully embraces the genre traditions the film comes from. We spoke with Juliana about taking a modern approach to the werewolf story, incorporating current social issues, and her filmmaking partnership.

Lesley Coffin: What was it about the werewolf mythology which inspired you to tell a new story using that old subgenre?

Juliana Rojas: The first inspiration for the film we had came from a dream Marco had. He had a dream about two women living in isolation, raising a monster child. And we were really attracted to that image, first because of the idea that it was about two women, raising a creature they had to protect from the world. And also that it was a child, something we associate with innocence and purity in the form of a monster. And we wanted to make a werewolf tail because we know that mythology exists in some form all over the world including Brazil, especially in the countryside. I think we can all relate to a creature which is half human and half animal because we learn to control our instinct with rational behavior. We need our rational behavior to evolve and live in society, but we also need our instinct because that’s where our passion comes from and will to survive. So we felt that exploring ideas of motherhood, racial difference and homosexuality would be an interesting way to tell a werewolf story in a new way.

Lesley Coffin: The film has two distinct halves, the relationship between Ana and Clara and the family relationship between Clara and Joel, and you have a big time jump where the audience has to catch up with what’s happened. Why have the film separated into halves and what cinematic choices did you make to help them feel distinct?

Juliana Rojas: In the original script we didn’t have a seven year gap, but we always knew that there would be those two parts. In the first version Joel was a baby, but then we decided it would be more interesting to have that seven year gap so Joel would have some comprehension of his state and start to have some memories of how he would transform. We thought it would be interesting to see how Clara deals with a child that had a will of his own. But we always knew that division would happen at his birth. And we thought very carefully of how to make them distinct from each other. The film is a fairy-tale, and the first part takes place in a world reminiscent of a castle, the apartment is cold and made of stone, and the second part is in the countryside so it’s always felt like Clara’s escaped into the woods. The village is more colorful and has a sense of community.

Lesley Coffin: Isabel Zuaa’s performance has to evolve as well in that time jump from. When we first meet Clara she’s a little colder and stern, and when we meet her seven years later she’s much softer and clearly very maternal and protective of Joel. What discussions did you have with Isabel about how to play the two versions of that character?

Juliana Rojas: Isabel and Marjorie (Estiano), who plays Ana, had an opportunity to rehearse a lot and we talked a lot about the genesis for each character. And they could also give suggestions about the backstories and scenes and dialogue. They were very involved in the creation of those scenes they had together. In the first part of the film Clara has tried to become a nurse but ran out of money and had to stop college and had a relationship which ended badly. She’s just trying to survive in the city and very suspicious about working for Ana because she hires her to do one thing but wants her to do other things. And so she’s very self-protective and tense, because she also feels she doesn’t belong in that neighborhood. But as she realizes that Ana’s in a fragile position because she’s been expelled from her family and is completely alone, they are able to connect. In the second part of the film she’s decided to raise Joel as her own. And that acceptance has softened her, because of the strength of that maternal love relationship she has with her son. The first part is about a passion and romance she has with Ana and the second part is about a mother’s love.

Lesley Coffin: Ana’s role is relatively small but her presence has to be felt throughout the entire film. Did you feel that was a character you could present in a slightly stylized way, as kind of the princess in the tower?

Juliana Rojas: In a way, because we wanted her to be a very romantic character who’s been driven by her passions. She comes from the countryside, but that aspect of her character is more like someone from 40 years ago, more naive and uninhibited, because the country isn’t like that anymore. And we started to think of what people from the countryside are like today, and felt that Ana would be the daughter of a rich man and the kind of woman who liked to party and show off her wealth.

Lesley Coffin: You mention the interest you and Marco had in exploring some of the social-political issues, including lesbian relationships. In Brazil where is the country in terms of acceptance of lesbian relationships and women raising children together?

Juliana Rojas: I think homosexuality’s still very poorly represented in films, especially lesbian relationships. I think to some people it can be seen as taboo. But we wanted to include it in the film because of that idea of passion. Thinking of the werewolf mythology in terms of passion and instinct, it’s also a story of love that some will see as taboo. Ana and Clara both feel like outcast from their society, Ana is a more privileged person but her decision to continue her pregnancy has made her an outsider. And that aspect allowed them to connect and create a different kind of family. And I think it’s important to portray relationships and families like that, especially because Brazil, like many parts of the world, is having a conservative wave. Some of the rights we have right now are at risk, so it’s important to have those characters as protagonists.

Lesley Coffin: We’re seeing a rise of filmmaking teams, as you’ve established with Marco. How did that relationship begin and what benefit do you feel there is in co-directing?

Marjorie Estiano as Ana and Isabel Zuaa as Clara in Good Manners

Juliana Rojas: Marco and I have known each other since film school, we met there more than 18 years ago. And we have a very strong relationship because we learned about film together and worked on our first films together. And we connected that first day because of our love for horror films and musicals. We’d go see those films together. And I think it’s good to have a collaborator who shares your vision because you have someone to share responsibility with but also because sometimes we disagree. And if that happens, we have to discuss and find a solution which works for both of us and that can force us to go outside our comfort zone, which ultimately makes us better filmmakers.

© Lesley Coffin (7/28/18) FF2 Media

Photo credits:  Canal+Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC)Dezenove Som e Imagem

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