Karim Aïnouz’s latest is an ambitious adaptation of two women separated by the patriarchy and the loneliness of family.
It’s about halfway through Invisible Life that it reaches its most transparent. “Family is love, not blood,” a character states. The motto is unabashedly clear, yes, but that isn’t to say its sentiment is black and white—or even true. Around this monochromatic thinking is a world of color, interests, ambitions, and passions bordering on the pathological. It’s youth at its purest, all seen from a lens that’s essentially waiting to see where it’ll go wrong.
But don’t get the wrong idea: Karim Aïnouz’s latest isn’t what one would call a “bitter” movie. It has too much of a moral compass for that. Cynical and more than a little austere at points, this adaptation of Martha Batalha’s 2016 novel written by Murilo Hausner, Inés Bortagaray, and Aïnouz is something of a lost offering: a melodrama of split ends. Its narrative is split, its relationships are just as much, and others’ perceptions of its central characters are even more so.
Guida (Julia Stockler) wants nothing more than to find true love. Her sister, Euridice (Carol Duarte), on the other hand, yearns to be an acclaimed pianist. Holding on to the idea of a dream more than the dream itself, these young women seem too attuned to the world to have such simple aspirations. Their hopes are more modest than they are radical despite what others may think. The sad truth, however, is that the patriarchy around them has set the bar that low. Asking for anything is asking too much.
They encourage each other without fail, but their relationship starts to fray when Guida leaves Rio de Janeiro for Athens with Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes), a charmer who quickly reveals himself as abusive. As such, Guida returns home single and pregnant, at which point the sisters’ parents (Antonio Fonseca and Flavia Gusmao) disown her, telling her that Euridice is now studying in Vienna. But she’s not: she’s on the other side of town in a vanilla marriage with Antenor (Gregorio Duvivier), soon expecting a child of her own.
Years pass as the two carry on with their separate lives through the 1950s. Their own families grow; their dreams blur with domesticity and complacency. All the while, Guida writes letters to Euridice as if to save her from puritanical damnation through sheer hope. Invisible Life isn’t particularly coy in its allusions to Greek mythology, but therein lies some of its deeper value: an unconscious regurgitation of ancient mores that, through repetition, forces everyone into acceptance. It’d feel like a tragedy if weren’t so real, and that’s the point.
In fact, some may find the experience to be onerous given the distance that Aïnouz’s film has from itself. He’s crafted a picture with no real visual differences between characters. Rather, he and Hélène Louvart (Happy as Lazzaro) blend the sisters’ lives into a single trajectory. Lush exteriors part ways as the realism shifts from textured to almost dirty. Moments blur into years rather than concrete acts, and what at times flirts with a vignette-driven narrative unspools into something that requires much more active participation.
It’d feel like a tragedy if weren’t so real, and that’s the point.
In that way, it’s a bit cruel—a sprawling melodrama that borders on fatalistic. That said, it’s also fitting, and the 139-minute runtime allows for shifts in both rhythm and character dynamics before focusing redirecting its focus on Guida and Euridice as individuals, not just sisters. Is family truly love, or is it blood as well? Maybe it’s both; maybe it’s neither. As others come and go over the years, one has to wonder if the truest family is oneself and no one else.
Invisible Life is currently in limited release and continues expanding through January.