Not every film has the power to inspire its audience to do something meaningful. A film is still capable of being special without that quality, but when it does possess it, it can prove a transformative experience for the viewer. Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life is one of those rare occasions because it spurs us to reflect on our life choices and our connection to those around us.
Adapted from a 2015 novel by Martha Batalha, the film collected the Un certain regard prize at Cannes this year and was selected by Brazil to represent the country at the Academy Awards. It follows two sisters — Eurídice and Guida — whose bond is so robust that it drives them through adulthood after they are forced to live apart from each other.
Aïnouz (who co-authored the script as well as assuming directing duties) isn’t afraid to embrace the melodramatic components of the story, which details the impact of the sisters’ separation over a period of decades. In fact, the film was marketed upon release as a “tropical melodrama” — a perfect summary, since the warm colours and Brazilian vegetation (enriched by the exemplary work of cinematographer Hélène Louvart) lend an entrancing flair to the devastating narrative.
As events play out, we realise Eurídice and Guida have become trapped — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally — by the distance between them and the way that destiny seems intent on keeping them apart. They’re equally imprisoned by societal demands, especially considering that the story begins in the early 1950s, when sexism didn’t allow women — particularly those with transgressive attitudes — to navigate their lives the way they really wanted to.
In line with his previous features, the director demonstrates a wonderful ability to make us empathise with deeply flawed characters. Other filmmakers could’ve easily presented these people in a judgemental light, but Aïnouz knows better. The performances are crucial here, not only from the captivating leading ladies but also the supporting characters — particularly Fernanda Montenegro, whose portrayal of the present-day Eurídice reminds us she’s one of the most talented actresses alive.
The affection that fills Invisible Life is as potent as the pain caused by the characters’ uncertain futures and lack of control over their fates. Those feelings intensify throughout the course of the film and when the marvellous third act hits, it’s almost impossible to hold back the tears. Even if you don’t have siblings, you’ll feel compelled to reach out and contact your loved ones as the credits roll . . . after you’ve recovered from that cathartic and haunting conclusion.