By Guillermo Severiche:
The Brazilian film Good Manners / As Boas Maneiras (2017), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno Film Festival and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, opens this Friday, July 27 at the IFC in New York City and on Friday, August 17 at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, followed by other cities. TropicalFRONT dialogued with the filmmakers about the challenges, ideas, and process of making this contemporary tale of a werewolf in socially complex São Paulo.
In which ways does this film, Good Manners, relate to your previous collaboration as filmmakers, Hard Labor (2011)? What are the main differences with that previous project?
MD: Hard Labor was our first feature, but we had already directed several shorts together and with the same cast and crew, so that film was, in a way, an extension of our short film research. Hard Labor was about how work relations affect all our personal and domestic relations. This subject has always attracted us. Good Manners also deals with it, but it dives deeper into fantasy territory. Work and class relations are still present in the film, but we allowed ourselves to go several steps further regarding genre.
I'm always curious about the creative process of a film. In this case, as a collaborative production, I was wondering if you can tell us more about your work as a team for the writing of the screenplay as well as the shooting.
JR: In this film, the first idea came from a dream that Marco had. He dreamt about two women who were living in an isolated place and were raising a monster child. He told me about the dream and we were both very attracted to that image because of this idea of women resisting from the rest of the world while protecting a creature. We also liked the idea of a monster child, because you usually relate a child with innocence and purity. We thought that this would be a very interested character.
MD: We met a long time ago, in 1999, at the beginning of film school in São Paulo. Our friendship and partnership began right away – we always loved movies, but we learned together how to make them. We don’t like to split functions, except when it’s very necessary in the rush of the film set. So we write together and stay together on set most of the time, working close to the actors and the team. If we disagree about something, we discuss until we reach a conclusion that is satisfying for both of us. We found out with time that that conclusion is usually better than any of our original individual ideas.
How did you manage to coordinate your ideas? What were the main challenges?
JR: We talk a lot about the film since its first development. We write together and usually discuss the story and make a long synopsis and then start writing the script. Usually one person starts writing the script to a point and then send it to the other who continues writing. So it’s a little a back-and-forth process. Then, doing the preparation of the film, we talk a lot about how we want to shoot the scene or what the feelings we want to represent in the scene are. So when we come to the shooting, we’ve already discussed a lot about what it’s going to be shot. We sure do everything together, but sometimes we divide chores a bit: while I set the shot, he goes and talks to the actress, and vice versa. But in the end, we decide things together and it’s a collaboration from the start to the end. Sometimes we also disagree so we try to find a new solution that can please both of us; and this is very good because it makes us try things we would have never tried if we were working alone. This is very rewarding for the partnership.
Good Manners allows to establish many connections with previous works in film history. You have mentioned in other interviews the importance of Jacques Tourneur, but other films can be referred, such as the 1930s Frankenstein (particularly in the last scene) or Rosemary's Baby, to name some. Can you talk a bit more about the relationship between Good Manners and other films from the past? How did they impact the configuration of your story and film style?
MD: We love movies but we don’t usually bring many direct references to each of our films. Of course a lot of them are bound to appear on the screen even when we’re not conscious of it. The Frankenstein climax, for instance, is a scene that both of us like, but the one we discussed with the team was the Beauty and the Beast mob scene (the 1991 Disney version). So our main inspiration was a movie that was already inspired by a previous one. Other movies, like Rosemary’s Baby, were not really discussed in the process at all. We talked a lot about Night of the Hunter and its strong contemporary gothic atmosphere, as well as early Disney animation that also mixed different genres (musical, horror, romance), such as Dumbo and Snow White. The use of matte paintings in movies like Black Narcissus and Marnie was also very inspiring.
The film shows a very complex social context, which includes a diversity regarding race, class, and sexuality. How did this become a significant aspect for the fantastic world that the film portrays?
JR: In most of our films, the story takes place in São Paulo. Thus we are very interested in showing São Paulo’s social aspects, because that’s part of the characters’ lives. What kind of society we live in? How does society treat us? It’s part of our lives so we should portray it in our films. We always saw this film as a fairy tale in São Paulo, but we wanted to create a São Paulo that was both at the same time magical and realistic. So then it was important to have conflicts and political aspects present in the narrative. I think that the tensions we try to portray in the film come also from the idea of duality and contrast that you have in every werewolf tale. The social difference and tension are also related to the city geography: the center that is richer and the periphery that is poor. This relates to racial issues as well: you have a character that is black from humble origins and a white rich woman.
This tension between reality/fantasy is maintained during the whole movie in perfect harmony, allowing both a reading through a fantastic lens and a political/social lens. What were the challenges you confronted while making this film in regards of this tension between reality/fantasy? Was it hard to sustain this quality of the film while writing the script or shooting?
MD: For us, the movie was always a fantasy. That’s why we were not shy about presenting São Paulo as a matte painting in the first scenes – or the erratic behavior of Ana, or the religious/musical aspects of Dona Amélia, Clara’s landlady... But we understood that Clara (like a person viewing the film for the first time) sees a lot of mysteries in Ana. So we allowed that mystery to develop slowly, but we knew at some point we would have to face it in a straight manner. After all, we felt Joel was also a protagonist (and not only a monster) in the story.
JR: For us it was a big challenge, because it is our most fantastic film so far. This is also a film that has musical score, so it’s more complex in its aesthetic aspect. We didn’t know until the film was ready if the balance between fantasy and realism would work. Also, we didn’t know if the different moods of the film would work: you have some parts that are more of suspense and horror, others that are funny, and others that are musical parts. What guided us was intuition. Also, we were very connected to the characters’ emotions; and this was a very big thing for us. If it felt that for the character was important to sing a song because it’s a strong and dramatic moment, then we would go for it and follow our hearts. That’s what we did. That’s how I think the film has a unity, although it mixes genres and parts with distinct identities.