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Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Invisible Life

Director Karim Aïnouz’s “The Invisible Life” starts out with a bit of foreshadowing. In its opening scene, two young women – sisters, Guida (Julia Stockler) and Eurídice (Carol Duarte) – have become separated in a seaside wilderness and are running through the trees. They wander around, both calling their sister’s name, but never manage to find each other. So, it’s not too surprising that the story of “Invisible Life” comes to focus on the sister’s losing touch, a result of their interactions with the men in their lives, and envying what they think the other is experiencing.

In 1950s Brazil, Guida and Eurídice live with their conservative parents – mother, Ana (Flávia Gusmão), and father, Manoel (António Fonseca). Both girls dream of a better life outside the stifling confines of their father’s oppressive rule. Eurídice dreams of becoming a concert pianist while the less talented Guida just dreams of escape. Shortly into the movie, Guida runs off with a sailor, Iorgos (Nikolas Antunes), leaving her younger sister behind. It’s not until later that the family learns, via letter, what happened to her.

The women of “The Invisible Life” are like objects to the men. Their mother, as one of the daughter’s states, lives in the shadow of their father, willingly doing everything he commands. The two daughters are expected to do likewise. Obviously, Guida doesn’t comply but Eurídice does, marrying a suitable suitor, Antenor (Gregório Duvivier), and entering into a loveless marriage – Eurídice and Antenor’s first sexual encounter is more like rape than an act of love – instead of pursuing her dreams.

Guida’s relationship with Iorgos doesn’t work out (he’s a womanizer) so she, now pregnant, returns home, expecting to be welcomed back with open arms. Wrong. Manuel, enraged at the sight of her, doesn’t want her back in the house. While his anger may be understandable, his punishment is too severe. He turns his daughter away, leaving her to find her way on her own and telling her that her sister has gone to study in Vienna. Eurídice is unaware of Guida’s return. Whenever she asks her parents about Guida they both claim they never hear from her. Separated, both women are forced to navigate the world without their beloved sibling, each hopeful of someday being reunited.

Aïnouz presents the material with a harsh stylized aesthetic. The picture looks rough. It’s hazily photographed, littered with digital harshness, and often comes to focus on unpleasant details – Manuel violently descaling a fish, Eurídice urinating at her wedding, Antenor’s erect penis – that all seem to accent the unpleasantness that women dealt with in this time period. Even their living environment feels harsh and unfriendly. There is some striking photography but most of the visual intent is meant to keep any warm and happy feelings from coming to the forefront, despite the film’s lush color scheme.

Stockler and Duarte look a bit too similar. At times it was hard to tell which sister we were currently watching. Also, Eurídice and Guida are referred to by different names, making it confusing to know who we are watching. Other times, usually whenever there was a time jump, it was hard to tell we were even looking at one of the sisters. There’s a scene later in the movie where both sisters happen to be in the same restaurant – what is meant to create tension for a possible reunion falls flat due to the amount of time it takes to recognize one of the women as Eurídice.

The supporting characters aren’t as well developed as the two sisters. Characters become involved with no introduction, leaving the audience to attempt to infer who they are (in fact, much of the film is left for the audience to infer what has happened). This wouldn’t be a problem but, even by the end of the movie, these ancillary characters aren’t fully developed.

There are some strong moments scattered about but there are too many nagging issues to allow them to bolster this movie enough for a completely positive review. I’d be curious to know how this plays out upon second viewing. I suspect that it’d play better the second time around since you aren’t going to be spending your time trying to figure out who people are. But this review is about my first watch, and my first viewing left me less than impressed. “The Invisible Life” is worth a watch but not a glowing recommendation.
(Review by Bret Oswald)

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