2020, R, 139 min. Directed by Karim Aïnouz. Starring Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler, Flávia Gusmão, António Fonseca, Gregório Duvivier, Bárbara Santos, Nikolas Antunes, Hugo Cruz.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Jan. 10, 2020
There are two sisters. They are Eurídice and Guida. They are coming of age in Rio de Janeiro during the 1950s. Their lives will traject in extremely different ways in Karim Aïnouz’s adaptation of Martha Batalha’s 2016 novel, A Vida Invisível de Eurídice Gusmão. Eurídice is a gifted pianist, with dreams of attending school in Vienna. Guida is a free spirit who gets on with a sailor bound for Greece. Guida follows him there, only to find herself pregnant and then abandoned, returning to Rio, disgraced in her father’s eyes and ultimately disowned, left to live a life of meager means. Eurídice, in turn, marries a young man, and her dreams of being a student in a music academy in Austria are jeopardized when she finds herself pregnant months before her audition test. The crux of the narrative hinges on the father’s decision to lie to Guida, as he vanquishes her from the family, telling her that her sister has gone to Europe when she remains in Rio. Two sisters living quite different lives in the same city, but never reconnected. They go through life never knowing that they are right next to each other.
The labyrinthine machinations of the plot notwithstanding – and it is epic, spanning decades of the lives of these two women and their families – the main theme, played like Eurídice’s vehement piano work, is one of women’s lives in a patriarchal society that views them as lesser, as subordinate beings whose roles are preordained from their birth. The methods and means in which these two sisters lash out in their roles, to various degrees of success, form the majority of the dramatic tension. There’s a moment, one of many quietly profound scenes in the film, where Eurídice slaps her hands together to kill a mosquito buzzing around the kitchen as her husband reveals that he knows she is pregnant with their child, a child that tethers her to a life of domesticity and obligation – quite a different path than the one she wished for. Guida’s destiny is similarly derailed but in a different fashion.
Hélène Louvart’s beautiful and evocative cinematography adds much to the melodrama. The colors are vibrant and the frame shifts are seamless. As a story of oppression in a time and a country where women were basically considered commodities, Invisible Life is a profound example of the insidious and continuing effects of tyranny against women. But that said, the film is so alive, so joyous and raucous at times, that the empathy you feel for these characters is all the more poignant and the catharsis is well earned. This is a film you fall into, like an embrace you wish two sisters would hold, but one that the world denies them.