Directed by Karim Aïnouz
When Invisible Life leans into the melodrama it becomes otherworldly. The story of two sisters separated sometime around age 18 is inherently melodramatic, based solely on the justification for their separation, but it’s not until the second half that the film sheds any semblance of realism and becomes almost magical, albeit in a nightmarish way.
The sisters are Guida and Eurídice. When Guida runs away with a Greek sailor, her father disowns her. When she returns, pregnant, he orders her away and lies to her, saying Eurídice has departed Brazil to attend a musical school in Vienna. For Eurídice, she believes her sister has never returned from Greece.
From there we follow the two sisters separately as they come of age, or really are thrown into motherhood. Over the course of a decade or so we see their ups and downs as Guida narrates letters she writes to Eurídice but which we know the sister has never received.
It’s melodrama which gets us into this situation, and it will be melodrama that teases us and then delivers a conclusion, but in the middle is a serious, at times heartwarming, depiction of what it’s like to live in the shadow of something or someone.
That middle portion of the film is pretty grim, even as there are moments of joy. It’s just that the joy is often left onscreen or implied through the continued health of a child, for example, while each scene focuses on the pain in each woman’s life.
With the eventual context of how and when the film ends, there is a kind of disheartening, but maybe understandable, normalization of pain. Eurídice suffers through the type of marriage you see in Riding In Cars With Boys, while Guida has a scene in which she sleeps with a drug dealer in exchange for the five vials of morphine she will use to help her surrogate mother/sister/best friend end her life.
It’s almost over the top until it is over the top, but at that point the film just embraces the melodrama of it all, and it’s quite something, that unashamed manic highs and lows.
Then, near the end, there’s a half-century time jump, portrayed unceremoniously in a simple, jarring cut from Eurídice’s haunted, out of focus expression to a wide shot of a cemetery with the immediately discomforting sound of a helicopter. When a gold cart enters frame we know for sure it’s not 1958 anymore.
And I’m a sucker for a good time jump, I’m not sure why. The moment here really sells the emotion of everything the characters have experienced but which, based on the fact that they’ve lived those 60 ensuing years, is buried under some combination of acceptance, calcified regret, some memory loss and whatever else comes with old age wisdom.