Good Manners (Dutra, Rojas, 2017) and Saint Maud, (Glass, 2019)

I’m films and films behind on these posts, but these two recent watches both stuck out to me. How did I miss Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ Good Manners? It’s a great film, and such a good example of genre filmmaking doing work allegorically, fantastically, and dramatically.

Clara (Isabél Zuaa) lands a nanny job with the enigmatic, but well-to-do Ana (Marjorie Estiano). At first it seems pretty straightforward. Ana is a “popular girl” with money to burn and very pregnant. Clara is from a lower socio-economic class. But soon things get hairy…

SPOILERS below.

How much do Rojas and Dutra intend via their skin-color-casting? Clara is darker, Ana is fairer. It seems difficult to not read into.

Good Manners is a bit of a musical, with the directors structuring it around three numbers. The first is sung casually by Dona Amélia (Cida Moreira) and could just be in-character. The second number, delivered around the midpoint, is trans-diegetic, very narrative, and sung by a side character who’s kind of like a siren in the moment. And the third one is a duet between Clara and Dona Amélia, and it’s not only narrative, but addressing a current, pressing issue of the script. That’s a nice evolution of how the musical numbers function – and worth nothing that they increase in spontaneity as the screenplay becomes more fantastical.

I love this intro to Clara. It’s the first shot of the film. She walks from that MS into a tight CU. One shot as she moves through glass door after glass door:

It’s a nice setup. She lies her way in (which we learn later), and the building functions as a sort of prison – the glass panes seem like she’s getting set for a visit.

Dutra and Rojas, with DoP Rui Poças (what a filmography – Tabu! Zama! The Ornithologist!) shoot the São Paulo skyline like a fairy tale. It clearly took a strong VFX assist to get it so bold and storybook:

I’m always curious about small coverage decisions. Like this one, an early interaction between Clara and Ana, where Ana’s coverage is a MS over-

-and Clara’s is a semi-profile CU:

It makes sense. We might not know it at this point (we should), but it’s Clara’s film through-and-through. She owns the scene and yet stays rather closed to us.

Here’s a nicely blocked scene. We start in something like a POV, which Clara walks into, turning it into a master:

We cut into this 50-50. It’s an American/Cowboy shot-size, which you don’t see as much anymore:

I wonder why that shot size. It’s comfortable; it reaches the bottom of Ana’s dress, which works compositionally; it functions to get progressively closer, which the entire scene will do…

Then into this OTS, which turns into a tighter (emphasis on the “er”) 2-shot. To an insert hitting the animal motif, and then back to that same 2-shot where Ana departs in MCU:

To Clara’s CU, which will now organize the rest of the scene as she sits, head on:

Clara will sit from here, Ana will pace in front of her. It works in terms of content. Ana is confessing, Clara is something like her anchor. Clara is also opening up as a character. Here she’s framed so much more plainly than my previous example. Ana is impetuous, and her back-and-forth-

-says as much. She hits the window in a CU (tighter and tighter) at a critical point, returns the way she came-

-and ends up drunkenly, over-enthusiastically on Clara’s lap:

Of course the subtext of this scene is the true beginning to a romance and it’s organized that way. Dancing to hugging to conversating openly to snuggling. Spying to arm’s length interacting to comfort to nearly sexual. Distant to close. Closed to profile to open. All the evolutions are there.

I won’t spoil anything about where Good Manners goes. I like the script quite a bit and it’s worth going in blind.

Saint Maud

I had hoped to catch Rose Glass’ Saint Maud last year, so I was happy it finally became available. Morfydd Clark gives a great central turn as Maud/Katie, a nurse dealing with a form of PTSD and a too-abrupt, born-againness simultaneously. I thought of The Duke of Burgundy, Take Shelter, Mother Joan of the Angels, and A Dark Song while watching.

This is a really patient film that somehow manages to both go exactly where you expect it, and somewhere entirely different than anticipated. Like with Good Manners I won’t spoil it, particularly that final 20 minutes. It’s full of memorable beats. The ending shot-sound combination is perfect. Just before (like, frames) it happened I questioned the filmmaker’s intentions, and then Glass outsmarted me and went to the exact right place before the credits.

Some of the small moments in here work so well – a bug (god?) that brings us to Maud’s shrine, which wavers magically before we hear a pitched-down Welsh omniscience speaking; tornadoes in beer glasses; and a really uncomfortable conversation with a random caregiver stick out.

Glass lets us into Maud’s trauma from the beginning. The way she shoots it is uneasy – sickly tones, a moment of disgusting grace (the theme of the film?), ambiguity. It’s a nice intro. What happened and how sympathetic we should be for the eponymous character are all unclear and that mystery, which clears up as we go, is useful: if we have too full an image of her we’d judge one way or another too soon.

A crosscut during a sex scene is harsh, but is such a cleverly staged way to deliver that exposition. That’s such a challenge, right? Give some potentially on-the-nose info, but do so at a structurally advantageous and visually compelling (here: visceral) way. It’s great in Saint Maud.

About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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