“Invisible Life”, which was selected as Brazil’s official entry for Best International Film Oscar in last year, is a surprisingly absorbing piece of family melodrama. While the story and characters may feel familiar at first, the movie gradually draws us into its two main characters’ heartbreaking tale via vivid realism, sensitive storytelling, and some stylish moments to be appreciated, and it certainly helps that the movie is anchored by two strong lead performances at its center.
Julia Stockler and Carol Duarte play Guida and Eurídice Gusmão, two sisters who are different from each other in many ways. In the opening scene, these young lasses are spending some time together in a beach forest, and everything seems fine for them, but then the mood becomes rather ominous as Eurídice later becomes separated from Guida in the forest.
As listening to Eurídice’s following narration, we sense something bad will happen to her and her older sister sooner or later, and that does happen as Guida hurriedly decides to elope with some Greek sailor at one night. Shocked by her impulsive deed, her parents quickly decides to have Eurídice get married for covering up their family scandal as soon as posssible, and Eurídice is not so pleased about that because she would rather go to Vienna instead for honing her considerable musical talent.
Several months later, Guida returns after belatedly coming to realize how lousy her lover actually is, but she is now pregnant, and that certainly makes her father irater. Furiously rejecting Guida with no mercy except some money thrown at her, her father firmly forbids her to come back again, and Guida, who is quite strong-willed just like her father, also swears in response that she will never return.
Once Guida is gone, her father goes further for cutting her away from the family once and for all. He decides not to tell anything about Guida’s return to Eurídice, and his obedient wife follows his heartless decision without any complain. Although Guida still wants to correspond with her dear younger sister, their father cruelly blocks Guida’s small chance of connecting with Eurídice, and Eurídice still does not know anything even when they are not so far from each other in Rio de Janeiro.
The middle part of the film alternates between their respective lives, both of which are constantly filled with misery and unhappiness. While Eurídice lives in a more comfortable environment after leaving her parents, her husband turns out to be your average insensitive prick, and her remaining aspiration to be a musician seems to be dashed completely when she is notified on one day that she becomes pregnant. With a sympathetic relative who is her only close friend, she tries to escape from this situation, but, of course, she only finds herself more trapped in that drab prospect of being a middle-class wife and mother forever.
In case of Guida, it goes without saying that things are far more desperate for her as she tumbles down into the bottom of the society. Because she has run out of money now, she has no choice but to work as a prostitute on streets shortly after giving birth to her little boy, and it is really fortunate that she is subsequently helped by an old lady who turns out to be more generous and sympathetic than expected.
As getting more accustomed to her new life, Guida comes to find a new family to lean on from her young son and that old lady, but she still hopes for reconnecting with Eurídice. Even though she is well aware that she may never get any reply in the end, she keeps writing letters to her dear younger sister, and some of the most poignant moments in the film come from the readings of her harrowing letters.
In the meantime, Eurídice goes through a fair share of ups and downs in her life. As keeping searching for her dear older sister, she also finds some solace from preserving that precious aspiration of hers, but then, like Guida, she is painfully reminded that she does not have much chance as a woman limited by a conservative patriarchal society.
While there eventually comes a series of expected melodramatic moments during its last act, the screenplay by director Karim Aïnouz and his two co-adapters Murilo Hauser and Inés Bortagaray stays calm without becoming too sappy, and Aïnouz and his crew members deliver several striking dramatic moments to admire. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart did a commendable job of establishing a plain but palpable sense of period and place on the screen, and the precise editing by Heike Parplies and the good score by Benedikt Schiefer are crucial especially during one mesmerizing key scene where our two lead characters happen to be around each other at one spot but then become separated due to another cruel turn of fate.
Above all, the movie is held together well by the dynamic performances from Duarte and Stockler, both of whom are constantly convincing in their main characters’ respective dramatic trajectories. They are also supported well by several supporting performers including Gregorio Duvivier, Bárbara Santos, Flávia Gusmão, Maria Manoella, and Antônio Fonseca, and it is surely nice to see Fernanda Montenegro on the screen again (Remember her Oscar-nominated performance in “Central Station” (1998)?).
In conclusion, “Invisible Life”, which received the top prize at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, is a powerful work for many good reasons, and it is certainly another fine work from Aïnouz, who previously drew my attention via “Futuro Beach” (2014). “Invisible Life” confirms to me that he is indeed a talented filmmaker, and I will certainly have some expectation on his next movie to come.