Dir: Karim Ainouz | Writers: Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray | Cast: Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler, Gregorio Duvivier, Fernanda Montenegro, Barbara Santos, Flavia Gusmao, Maria Manoella, Antonio Fonseca, Cristina Pereira, Gillray Coutinho | Brazil, 139′
Two sisters are forced into separate lives in this striking melodrama set in male-dominated Rio de Janeiro of the 1950s.
The Brazilian director’s two previous films have been enjoyable but lightweight compared to this ambitious but highly intimate drama, based on a novel by Martha Batalha, The Invisible Life soaks up the vibrant sensuality of tropical Brazil and distills into an intense and passionate portrait of feminine desire and longing in a country where a woman’s only domaine was the home. But their self-determination burns brightly throughout this moving story of female emancipation. There’s nothing coy or dainty about Ainouz’s complex and fully fleshed out characters played spiritedly by newcomers Carol Duarte (Euridice) and Julia Stockler (Guida) who make this often languorous film an extremely moving experience that follows the women’s lives from early adulthood to old age, the reveal comes in the form of an ingenious coda.
It’s 1941 and Guida and her younger sister Euridice are discussing sex – or the febrile expectancy of it – as they wander through the verdant coastline surrounding their cramped family home in Rio. Daughters of a draconian father and his meek wife – described as a shadow by Euridice later on in the film – the girls are bound together by an unusual closeness forcing them to share all their hopes and dreams which will be stifled by a patriarchal set-up as the film plays out. The story is framed by a plot device that causes the girls to be separated and so their only way of communicating is through stifled correspondence and unanswered questions. What emerges is a fascinating social history of Brazil during the 1940s and ’50s seen from a female perspective, but one which is gutsy and deeply affecting.
While Guida is conducting a secret affair with darkly handsome Greek sailor Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes), Euridice is developing her keyboard skills on the family’s piano, with a view to studying at the conservatory in Vienna. We then find out – through a letter to their father – that Guida has eloped with her man on a ship bound for Athens, whence she returns alone and pregnant. Clearly Yorgos had a girl in every port, but worse, her father throws her out callously disinheriting her, and telling her that Euridice is studying in Austria. In actual fact Euridice has married Antenor (Duvivier) a crude bore who spends most of his time in his underwear, and given birth to a daughter he didn’t really want. Meanwhile, Guida finds solace in the home of a prostitute Filomena (Barbara Santos) where she brings up her son.
Ainouz has an extraordinary eye for detail and the film’s well-paced dramatic arc unfolds through tone and atmosphere closely following the literary structure, drawing us into the women’s world where we share in their intimate feelings, joys, heartache and sadness. It’s a emotional rollercoaster but one told with such intense warmth and beauty that by the end we feel a deep connection to these characters and their experiences. Something that is rare nowadays, with so many atmospheric yet empty films.
Spectacular vibrant camerawork is provided by French DoP Helene Louvart (Happy as Lazzaro) both on the widescreen and in really intimate close-up – and although some of the images are quite graphic, adding considerable gravity and truth to the alarming scenes of birth and love-making. The male characters invariably have feet of clay but in subtle ways that show them as convincing people not just hastily drawn cyphers. Each frame is exquisitely captured adding texture to an immersive family saga that bears testament to the enormous forbearance and indomitable resilience of its female characters. It seems appropriate that piano studies from Liszt, Grieg and Chopin should be the accompanying score. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 15 OCTOVER 2021 | WINNER UN CERTAIN REGARD | Cannes Film Festival 2019