By Beatrice Loayza in the January-February 2020 Issue
In 1951, two sisters living in Rio de Janeiro fantasize in the haven of their shared bedroom: good girl Eurídice (Carol Duarte) dreams of becoming a pianist and attending the Vienna Conservatory, while foolhardy Guida (Julia Stockler) has love on the brain. Unbeknownst to them, these moments will be their last together before the intrusions of self-centered men keep them forever apart.
Following the disparate lives of two women over the course of many years, Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life examines how Brazil’s patriarchy stifles desire and individuality. Eurídice falls into dreary domesticity after entering into an arranged marriage, and Guida, disowned by their stern father, takes to the slums with her child and surrogate mother, a prostitute named Filomena. A bitter irony governs the film’s ultimate tragedy: both sisters remain in Rio believing the other is thriving in Europe.
Vivid production and costume design summon the vitality of mid-century Rio. Shot by Alice Rohrwacher’s regular cinematographer, Hélène Louvart, the lush, sweltering environment is heightened with dewy, bright colors and rousing sound design. Impassioned performances from Duarte, Stockler, and Fernanda Montenegro (as older Eurídice) go hand-in-hand with the film’s full-blooded approach. But Aïnouz too readily buys into the trope of female suffering, which he views as inherently profound. As such, Eurídice and Guida come to be defined by their longing. Piled-up misfortunes and the epic passage of time become shallow substitutes for their self-realization.