Invisible lives

An epic coming-of-age story of two Brazilian sisters separated by an ocean

Opens Friday, Jan. 24. Starring Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler and Fernanda Montenegro. Directed by Karim Aïnouz. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Invisible Life, a prize-winner at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, is a lushly impassioned drama from Brazil. In telling the story of two sisters—two very lively young women coming of age in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s—it mixes a dreamy sort of melodrama with dashes of a rather raw realism.

The sisters are Guida (Julia Stockler) and Eurídice (Carol Duarte), and they are devoted to each other and look at times as if they might be twins. But they have contrasting temperaments and differences of age and height, etc. Guida is something of party girl, while the more reserved Eurídice has ambitions of studying piano at a Vienna conservatory.

Their seemingly idyllic relationship turns darkly dramatic when Guida falls in love with a Greek sailor named Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes) and runs away with him to be married in Europe. When she returns home pregnant and still single, her sternly domineering father (António Fonseca) disowns her on the spot and forbids her sympathetic but docile mother (Flávia Gusmão) from intervening in any way.

When the departing Guida asks about her sister, her father tells her Eurídice has gone to the conservatory in Vienna. With that turn of events, Invisible Life—which is based on a 2016 novel by Martha Batalha—becomes a strangely tangled and mysterious account of episodes in the separate lives of the two sisters in the years immediately after Guida’s return to Rio.

Eurídice, who is told that Guida has not returned from Europe, accepts an arranged marriage to a well-heeled dolt named Antenor (Gregório Duvivier) and has a child with him. Guida gives birth to her child, tries to abandon it, but soon finds a home for the both of them with a big-hearted lady of the night named Filomena (Bárbara Santos).

Writer-director Karim Aïnouz scrambles the chronology at times and weaves back and forth almost randomly between the separated sisters’ stories. That ostensibly freewheeling approach produces some mildly surreal results, but it also creates circumstances in which we can see ways in which the two young women’s misfortunes mirror each other as well as ways in which women of independent spirit can begin to live lives of their own in the shadows of crumbling patriarchy.

Stockler and Duarte both give strong, quietly offbeat performances, and Aïnouz excels in creating characters and situations that resist easy categorization at the same time that they advance a complex set of feminist themes in ways that are never merely didactic. Santos glows with worldly calm in the role of Filomena, and Duvivier’s feckless Antenor is a little masterpiece of clueless bourgeois arrogance.

The scene in which Guida and Eurídice visit the same cafe at the same time without noticing each other is a signature moment for the film as a whole and a worthy explication of its title. Aged Brazilian icon Fernanda Montenegro is superb in the film’s haunting final scene.