Brazilian-born filmmaker Karim Aïnouz adapts Martha Batalha’s 2016 novel of the same name into a sumptuous and moving melodrama. Set mainly in 1950s Rio de Janeiro, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão examines the all-encompassing injustices of patriarchy through the story of two sisters’ lifelong dedication to one another.
Invisible Life was selected as Brazil’s entry into the 2019 Academy Awards (the year of its domestic release), but was not nominated. Admittedly, it was up against stiff competition in the year in which Roma took the gong, but it remains a shame that this gorgeous, authentic melodrama missed out on a nod. And it is indeed a melodrama – a term that for some sadly remains a byword for overwrought emotional affectation – contriving a prolonged separation between the eponymous Eurídice (Carole Duarte) and her beloved sister Guida (Julia Stockler) explicitly designed to elicit the maximum emotional impact on its audience.
Young Eurídice is a talented pianist, hopeful that she will be accepted into the prestigious Vienna Academy of Music. Meanwhile, her hedonistic sister is infatuated with a Greek sailor before eloping with him. Later, Eurídice marries Antenor (Gregorio Duvivier), a slovenly boor whose selfishness wrecks any chance of Eurídice having a musical career. When Guida returns to Brazil alone and heavily pregnant, her conservative father turfs her out and, worse, tells her that Eurídice is in Vienna, sealing the fate of their lifelong separation.
Inivisible Life’s unifying concept – that patriarchy works through all levels of society like an invisible web – is weaved throughout the film. Structural issues like the lack of access to abortion is presented alongside Antenor’s conspiratorial conversations with Eurídice’s male doctor and her father’s automatic siding with his deplorable behaviour. Meanwhile, Guida’s inescapable poverty, her proximity to sex work, and the burden of childcare are weaved together as part of a single struggle. The injustices suffered by both sisters are balanced by a subtle network of women who work to support each other, most ably demonstrated in Guida’s narrative strand, while a little underwritten (or perhaps just invisible) in Eurídice’s.
It’s hard to imagine better casting for Eurídice and Guida. Performance, styling and physical resemblance become one in their seamless embodiment of their characters: in their mannerisms, shared secrets, frustrations and affections, there is never any question that these two are sisters. While Duarte and Stockler’s deeply-felt turns anchor the film from drifting into simplistic sentimentality, Hélène Louvart’s sumptuous cinematography elevates the script’s high-flung emotion with spaces that are often dreamlike; light is tangible like a haze, colours deep and tactile, and characters are glimpsed and doubled through screens, glass and mirrors, and Benedikt Schiefer’s classical score tenderly fills out and gives detail to the broader emotional brushstrokes.