Los Buenos modales (Good Manners)- 30th ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival

David Cunningham

Writers: Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz and Zebina Guerra

Director: Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz

The well-worn Shakespearian plot device of a clown or servant achieving change by speaking truth unto power is given a new twist in Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz’s Los Buenos modales.

Years ago, Rosario (Elena Irureta) did something her sister Manuela (Gloria Muñoz) finds impossible to forgive and their children also carry on the feud. Milagros (Carmen Flores) and Trini (Pepa Aniorte) are neighbours and friends and are employed by the estranged sisters to clean houses and look after their grandchildren, Daniel (Oriol Camps Casademont) and Carmen (Jordina Sala Baena). Taking a break from cleaning the friends visit a local park and the grandchildren, who have never previously met, quickly become friends.

Daniel is let down by his friends, but Carmen saves the day by attending his birthday party. This does, however, result in the estranged sisters meeting for the first time in years. Milagros has something of a saviour complex and convinces Trini they should play peacemaker and re-unite the sisters by contriving a series of meetings at which they can resolve their grievances. Of course, the best-intentioned plans sometimes go astray.

Writers Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz and Zebina Guerra do not attempt to build a convincing situation. It seems odd that two women with a lot of time on their hands would need cleaners or that the children would be cared for at the residences of their grandparents rather than parents. Rather the intention is to establish a mood of regret and unfulfillment which can then, hopefully, be resolved.

Rosario and Manuela lead lives of genteel desperation. Manuela is shown dozing off at twilight in the same armchair she has sat in all day. Rosario urgently tries to remain active and demonstrate her worth striving to keep up in Pilates class and cooking elaborate meals which her resentful daughter-in-law spitefully throws away uneaten.

Carmen Flores’s Milagros is a sweet busybody, distracting herself from personal problems, such as her bar-hopping unemployed husband, by helping other people even if they would rather be left alone. Pepa Aniorte’s Trini is the straight man in the partnership going along with schemes against her better judgement. The secondary characters are comic exaggerations – a bingo-mad neighbour exploits Milagros’s scheme-but never slide into outright parody.

The humour in Los Buenos modales is faintly absurd rather than laugh-out-loud funny. The audience is constantly reminded holding a grudge for so long is immature as the characters seem incapable of acting their age- women in their twilight years hiding under desks or squabbling childishly with nurses.

Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz blends melodrama (as opposed to more dignified drama) into the comedy. The funeral which opens the film is staged as a Mafia style confrontation between the sisters. The revelation of the offence committed by Rosario begins in a conventional manner but gathers momentum to become more extreme. A neighbour gleefully says eavesdropping on Milagros’s antics is better than watching a soap opera which may be the vibe for which the director was aiming.

Los Buenos modales is a low-key movie, an eccentric reminder of the joys and exasperations of family and companionship.

Los Buenos modales is at the 30th ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival, HOME, Manchester, on 11th and 22nd April 2024

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