Invisible Life is both an appropriate movie to watch right now and the kind of thing that could make the quarantine experience even more keenly felt – it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, Karim Aïnouz’s drama about separated sisters in midcentury Brazil is engrossing and transportive. On the other, if you’re keenly feeling the absence of family or loved ones during this period of social isolation, the movie may only compound your emotions (God help you if, like me, you’re alone in your house with only your pets). You should watch it either way, but let that be your warning up front.
The film follows two sisters, Guida (Julia Stockler) and Eurídice (Carol Duarte), living in Rio de Janeiro in the early ‘50s. Eurídice is a piano prodigy who dreams of attending a conservatory in Vienna. Guida is a party girl who rebels against the girls’ conservative parents by sneaking out for late night dances with her sailor boyfriend, Iorgos (Nikolas Antunes). Guida runs away to Greece to marry Iorgos. Eurídice is married off to Antenor (Gregório Duvivier), the son of her father’s business partner, which puts her dreams on hold.
When Guida returns home a few months later, unmarried and pregnant, her furious father (António Fonseca) disowns her, and tells Guida that Eurídice has left the country to study in Vienna. Believing her father’s lie, Guida writes letters to her sister about the life she’s making for herself, hoping her mother will forward them on, never knowing that Eurídice is still nearby. Meanwhile, Eurídice believes Guida is still in Greece, and is trying to find out what happened to her sister. The two women lead parallel lives, experiencing joys, setbacks and disappointments, always wishing they could share their experiences with the person who understands them the most, but unable to do so.
Aïnouz impressively establishes the setting and family dynamic of Guida, Eurídice, and their parents almost immediately. The sisters don’t spend much time together onscreen, but their connection is so well established that we understand how much they mean to each other, and feel robbed, just as they do, of how that relationship might have developed if they hadn’t been kept apart. The whole movie is suffused with a palpable sense of yearning – for a lost sibling, dreams deferred, a life that could’ve been – that lasts right up until the final moments.
Invisible Life also fully illustrates the frustrations of female characters living in a patriarchal society. It’s there in Eurídice’s painfully uncomfortable early encounters with her husband, Antenor, as she desperately tries not to get pregnant. It’s there in how Antenor and Eurídice’s father can keep Guida’s whereabouts a secret from her for years without feeling a smidgen of guilt. It’s especially there in Eurídice and Guida’s individual moments of growth and joy that are almost always tampered down by the men around them. You’ll find yourself wishing Eurídice would shout some sense into her husband, or tell her toxic father to get out of her life, then realize with a sinking heart why she never will.
That might sound grim, but Invisible Life is also full of love and joy, for children, the families we choose, and the satisfaction of working hard to build a fulfilling existence. It’s a movie that celebrates small things, while also acknowledging the larger injustices of life, and reinforcing the importance of connection. After you’re done watching Invisible Life, you may find yourself wanting to call your best friend, or a family member, and tell them how much you love them. That’s a good impulse to follow even in normal times, but Aïnouz’s movie reminds us that it’s an especially important one to consider when you’re forcibly separated.
“Invisible Life” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.