The opening moments of Invisible Life work so well to sum up the film's main focus. Two young women wander barefoot through a rainforest. They quickly lose each other in the diffused haziness and dense foliage. It seems like they could be near to each other and not even know it. We learn later that these women are sisters, Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Juila Stockler). While the opening scene may be a dream, it serves as a perfect microcosm for the film. These sisters will spend much of the time looking for each other. Director Karim Aïnouz inserts shots from this sequence throughout the film.
The film begins in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. The sisters are living with their parents. Father Manoel (António Fonseca) is a traditionalist with a terrible temper. He also seems to be disproving of what the sisters are doing or want. This leads Guida to sneak out often. Eurídice is far more willing to follow her father's rules. She is a piano prodigy who dreams of studying at a conservatory in Vienna. We quickly understand how the conditions of their upbringing bond the sisters together. When Guida abruptly runs off to Greece with her lover, Eurídice is left with the fallout.
Guida's leaving has tragic consequences for both sisters. Eurīdice is pressured into marrying. Her husband Antenor (Gregorio Duvivier) is emotionally stunted and pays no attention to the pain his wife feels. Their wedding night is marked by him raping her while she is drunk. He doesn't support her musical dreams. Eurídice tries to prevent getting pregnant but fails and finds herself trapped in the life her father dictated.
Guida returns pregnant to Rio de Janeiro after things do not work out in Greece. Her father disowns her, throwing her out on the street. He tells her a terrible lie, claiming her sister is now in Vienna. Guida is forced to live in the slums and make the best of her situation. The two send each other letters that we hear in voiceovers but it is clear neither of them ever receive each other's correspondence.
Invisble Life reminded me of the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is a domestic epic with a sprawling sense of melodrama. Aïnouz gives the film an elliptical structure that requires the viewer to keep up and understand where in a timeline things are. There is an emotionally knockout scene where the two sisters almost see each other at a restaurant that may have felt manipulative in someone else's hands but here is a revelation. When I think of the film now, I think about how several scenes help to pain a sharp picture of the social, religious and monetary forces that force women's choices. The film may be bleak at times but there is also a tropical vibrancy to it. The final moments of the film satisfy on a narrative level but the film's power is in what came before.