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Short Take: Good Manners

(Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, Brazil, Distrib Films, Opening July 27)

Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’s Good Manners seems a little unwieldy at first, as it sets up its premise of a black woman who is hired as a nanny by a wealthy white woman with a child on the way. Class tension and resentment promise to rear their heads eventually, even as hardworking Clara (Isabél Zuaa) and her flighty young employer, Ana (Marjorie Estiano), strike up an unusually close bond. It gets (more) complicated with the gruesome birth of a were-baby.

But if another movie might end with the triumphant emergence of a bouncing baby allegory, Good Manners is in some ways just beginning with this twist. (By this point, however, the film has already earned full kudos for its snouty creature-feature FX, cutely menacing, without the benefit of a break-the-bank budget.) The film’s second act observes how the kid’s existence plays out in new circumstances, and uses the horror trappings to morph into a drama of societal trauma for all involved (giving the age-old Frankenstein torch mob an unnerving echo of popular revolt).

Nevertheless, Good Manners could use some compression, and maybe has a case of good manners itself in dutifully schematizing racial themes represented with greater brio in generations of Brazilian cinema past. As Clara, Zuaa is invaluable for grounding the careful genre-repurposing with a fortitude that recognizes that even the most dramatic changes may change nothing at all.

Nicolas Rapold is Film Comment’s editor-in-chief.