If you watched just the first half-hour of Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s “Good Manners,” you’d have no idea that it is, ostensibly, a gothic horror picture. From the title to the tone, this barbed Brazilian genre exercise presents itself as a subtle social drama — right up until it becomes a film about werewolves.
Isabél Zuaa stars as Clara, an unemployed São Paulo nurse hired to be the nanny for privileged, eccentric mother-to-be Ana (Marjorie Estiano). Ana’s too casually intimate, and makes unreasonable demands, but Clara needs the work and finds her boss’ quirks oddly attractive — even when the full moon compels Ana to sleepwalk through the streets and eat stray cats.
Rojas and Dutra (who co-wrote and co-directed) take their time. They hold impeccably composed shots for a long time and never telegraph where their story’s going. Excise some scenes and this could be a subdued study of class-divisions, race-relations and star-crossed romance.
But “Good Manners” doesn’t throw away its fantastical elements. Between the detailed makeup effects, colorful sets and lavish musical score (with songs!), there’s a reason why the credits thank Walt Disney. They could just as easily cite Guillermo del Toro.
This is a different kind of monster movie, no doubt. It’s beautiful and magical, and as aware of the real world as it is of classic Hollywood. “Good Manners” is a haunting tale of love — and the burdens that come with it.
In Portuguese with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena