Bittersweet dreams and ‘invisible’ lives
A brilliant and moving story of sisters forced to live apart in the male-dominated, conservative world of 1950s Brazil
08 October, 2021 — By Dan Carrier
Carol Duarte as Eurídice
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF
Directed by Karim Aïnouz
A SUFFOCATING atmosphere of male oppression hangs over almost every scene of this brilliantly crafted Brazilian movie.
Beginning at the start of the 1950s, this a story of two sisters, Eurídice (Carol Duarte), and Guida (Julia Stockler), who live in Rio. These young woman have their every move monitored and dictated by their father Manuel (Antonio Fonseca). Male friends are no better – each behaves in a pre-conditioned way towards women, enforcing a rigid framework of sexist traditions that infects every aspect of their lives.
And then there is the shadow of the patriarchal God that seeps into every aspect of this Catholic society and is standing by, ready to punish them for eternity for their supposed sins.
Eurídice is a talented pianist and dreams of studying in Vienna. Guido has fallen for a Greek sailor and wants to elope with him.
We watch as both chase dreams: Guida heads for Europe, only to be abandoned, pregnant. Her return home is not welcomed – her father casts her out of the family, lies to her about where her sister is, and stops all contact.
Eurídice is forced to marry an objectionable man, Antenor (Gregório Duvivier), whose dad is in the bakery business with Manuel.
The pair are forced apart and are told the other is not still in Rio. We watch as they try to forge new lives with this breakdown of sibling love, the loss of family, hanging over them. Guida tries to find her sister, employing a detective, and writing letters she hopes will be posted on.
Brutal in its portrayal of a conservative society, Aïnouz is a renowned visual artist in Brazil, and his eye for a shot elevates this drama. Every image is set up as if it were a painting – the opening scene, of Guida at a window, is gorgeous and what follows is breathtaking photography.
While this film does not shy away from the poverty of Brazil’s working classes in the period, it also shows a sense of humane beauty in the characters and their surroundings.
It tackles a world of deeply ingrained misogyny – from doctors telling husbands about their wives’ conditions behind their backs, to authorities refusing to issue passports without the husband and fathers’ permission – and we are shown how ultimately damaging such attitudes are to a society.
This brilliant drama works for a number of reasons, from the excellent cast and moving story, and it is also a timely reminder about the never-ending fight for human rights and equality.