“Invisible Life”, A Tragic Story About A Lie

This is the Christ the Redeemer
Monument located on Corcovado Hill in Rio representing the image of the city in "Invisible Life".
Agustin Diaz Gargiulo

Invisible Life is sobering, largely because of how easily their life could have been happier.

It almost seems as though the root of every tragedy has a story about miscommunication and missed opportunities. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo thought that Juliet was dead when she was sleeping so, desperate for her love, he took is own life to join her. Likewise, when Juliet woke up to a dead Romeo, she killed herself in horror when she learned about his fate. And like these lovers, the relationship of the sisters in the film Invisible Life, is cursed with interference and bad luck.

This Brazilian drama which is based on a novel by Martha Batalha is about Guida (Julia Stockler) and Euridice (Carol Duarte), two sisters in 1950s Rio de Janeiro and their bleak life after they are forcibly separated because of a lie. Their murky story, which is directed by Karim Aïnouz feels equally poetic and rich with grim lessons about how quickly a person’s life can spiral because of a single mistake. Yet, it’s also showered with glimpses of hope.

Both sisters are exceptional and rebellious but Guida was the fun and carefree sister. She was much more adventurous and reckless, intensely passionate and effusive and she wasn’t the type to lead with caution. No. When she met a sailor and fell in love she risked everything to be with him without realizing the gravity of her actions. She’d convinced Euridice to help her sneak out to see him and even when Euridice tried to persuade her against leaving, she was determined to explore the depths of her infatuation, a feeling that she was developing for the very first time. It felt natural to take leave from her life, momentarily, to love wholeheartedly but she couldn’t have imagined that their traditional Portuguese father would be so cruel enough to use that as a reason to keep her away from her family. The story is rough.

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Invisible Life is a collage, packed with many ideas including lessons about making mistakes and warnings against being too rash with decisions. But it also plays into discussions about decency, how terribly outrageous their father was for separating the two sisters out of some hateful believe about how women should conduct themselves and also how shame and status can really damage lives. Ironically, their father’s selfishness and sexist intentions is intensely salacious and immodest, far more than the effects of Guida’s decisions, yet Euridice is the only one who seems to realize this and feel the profound effects of his lie.

Over the course of the movie, we see how much the sisters really relied on each other and depended on their contrasting personalities to find stability. Without Euridice, Guida often feels lost until she’s able to find her own family and carve out a sustainable life. In fact, both sisters face harsh realities; Guida with feeling ostracized and rejected, and Euridice, with the cutting feeling of abandonment and insecurity from never understanding why her sister didn’t want to be with her. It’s a dreadful situation because like Romeo and Juliet, the sisters are always so close to reconnecting and yet the tease of their reunion is dangled and then pulled away just when it’s about to happen. The sisters fixate on finding each other but although the boundaries separating them are frail, they’re stuck in the cyclical nature of their obsession and the mystery surrounding the other’s life. Ultimately, their separation from one another is punishing and toxic. The only things they can grasp to are letters and visions about how great the other person’s life must be. It’s a nightmarish situation, to be so close to finding a missing loved one but feeling hopeless as time flies away from you.

At the center of the moral questions in Invisible Life, it’s clear Batalha wanted more consideration and attention to the caustic effects of sexism. And particularly, to its poisonous extensions which is incisive through the detailing of how the sisters are deprived of agency, ambition, and autonomy so slowly, the idea seems to become most apparent at the end of the film—when it’s too late. We see this when their father discovers that Guida is pregnant and instead of showing care and concern about her well-being, he’s aggressive and cruel. Worse, he withholds sensitive information about Euridice and even denounces his association with her, all because she dared to choose a different path than he had wanted for her. Interestingly, although Euridice follows his design, and marries Antenor ( Gregório Duvivier), a neighbourhood boy he liked, her life is equally lacking—not in security and financial stability like her sister—but in colour and liveliness. Antenor is annoyingly selfish and traditional and likes to draw away all of her creativity and vitality to himself; so as to contain her dreams and imaginations to that of being a housewife and mother. Of course, none of these things are important to their father, he only cares that they follow the rules of his traditions.

Invisible Life is sobering, largely because of how easily their life could have been happier. Their complex story could have been simple, if their father wasn’t manipulative, if their mother wasn’t a coward or if Euridice married a better man. So the ending, which reveals the intricacies of the original lie, is unbelievably dark and so heartbreaking. It’s a huge blow to see how the violence of their father’s manipulation effectively creates a despair that is entirely avoidable but also because it diminishes the purity and essence of the two sisters. The difficulties in their stations dim both of their sparks, Euridice with her dreams and Guida with her expressive and audacious personality.

Still, the film is undeniably stunning and extremely compelling. It encourages viewers to reflect on the characters and their lives with a similar emotional experience of dramas like My Brilliant Friend, with its fatalistic and yet addictive sensibilities. In Invisible Life every ingredient feels naturally complementary and gripping elements of sex, humor and violence help to materialize the story, to bring a bit of realness to the whole thing. The story charms you in part, because of the sweet touches of music, soft scenes and use of colour throughout the film to contrast the more raw and bland moments of the lives of the sisters to their happier ones. But perhaps the most striking and also depressive part about the story is that it’s not entirely impossible to conceive of it actually happening.

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