‘The Invisible Life’: a tragedy of two separated sisters in a toxic patriarchy

The Invisible Life, based on the The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão by Martha Batalha, is a Brazillian-German film directed by Karim Aïnouz and written with Inés Bortagaray and Murilo Hauser. The movie follows two sisters that are kept apart due to a lie told by their father, and their differing lives connected by persisting toxic masculinity (BV: 4.0/5.0).

Review by Junior Associate Beatrice Viri

*This review contains spoilers for the ending!

The first few minutes of The Invisible Life features protagonists Guida (Julia Stockler) and Euridice (Carol Duarte) Gusmão losing each other in the depths of the rainforest, foreshadowing the rest of the film. After an outing in the Rio de Janeiro, the two sisters are separated — but no matter how near, cannot seem to find each other. 

Guida is the spirited, rebellious older sister while Euridice is a little more grounded, though she harbors a passion for music. They are the daughters of a baker in a middle-class, conservative family, and seem to leave rather idyllic lives — but one night fundamentally changes everything. Guida sneaks out with Euridice’s help for a rendezvous, and ultimately runs away with a Greek sailor, forcing Euridice to patch up the pieces in her stead.

A year later, Euridice is married off to Antenor (Gregório Duvivier) in order to ensure her family’s financial livelihood. Not too long later, Guida returns from abroad pregnant, duped by her womanizing sailor boyfriend. Though her mother is overjoyed to see her back, her father is less than thrilled; Manoel Gusmão (António Fonseca) physically assaults his daughter, scorning her for having a child in wedlock. He disowns Guida and tells a mocking lie that keeps the sisters apart for the rest of their lives: that Euridice has gone off to study piano in Austria, though truthfully she continues to remain in Brazil and her married life has barred her from her dreams.

The Invisible Life is told in two points of view: one following Euridice’s dissatisfaction with being a housewife while Guida navigates poverty and single motherhood. Guida starts living with prostitute Filomena (Barbara Santos) and writes letters to Euridice, narrating voice-overs during scenes. Guida hopes to visit Austria to reunite with her sister, but letters sent obviously never quite reach Euridice, while Euridice even hires a private investigator to find her long-lost sister. Sometimes exaggerated and unrealistic in its drama, The Invisible Life is a tale about two resilient women who show adversity by simply continuing to exist while being beaten down by the patriarchy.

Almost immediately, The Invisible Life throws in an uncomfortable sex scene and establishes that director Aïnouz is not afraid to explore the ugly. It is Euridice and her arranged beau’s wedding night — the man that Guida was actually supposed to marry. Euridice is barely an adult, full of nerves when older Antenor initiates sex; her new husband asks if she is alright, but continues to have his way despite her obvious malaise. A full frontal view of Antenor’s erection takes the screen — perhaps one of the first symbols of the persisting harmfulness of toxic masculinity as the husband imposes his desires.

Though scenes like the wedding night are evocative and full of meaning, The Invisible Life was also quite frustrating at times with its fruitless search. Some plot devices are plain unrealistic, such as Euridice and Guida’s mother Ana not telling Euridice about Guida’s letters. Euridice was her mother’s caretaker during illness, and defended her eldest against her husband; it doesn’t make sense that she wouldn’t tell her youngest of her sister’s resurgence to Brazil. I believe it was intent on emphasizing the repression of the patriarchy, of how “authoritarian” and absolute the male word is, how much control their father had — but when placed in a realistic landscape, it is plain cruel. 

The time progression following all the way to Euridice’s elderly years, wrinkling into a grandmother in the nursing home, also bordered on ridiculous. The timeline dragged on for way too long, and (spoiler alert) the sisters never get to meet in the end. Euridice at least gets closure, but it takes until the end of her life. Happy endings, of course, aren’t always realistic but such prolonged torment runs dry and loses effectiveness when it’s been going on for two hours. Still, I commend the movie on Duarte and Stockler’s compelling performances alone. The two actresses are set in their characters, wearing each emotion naturally — their suffering, their pain, and their small bits of happiness. 

The Invisible Life also includes hints of classism and colorism, emphasized by the sisters’ juxtaposition. Euridice lives in relative comfort and stability, while Guida is a poor single mother. Their contrast is evident in scene jumps from Guida and Filomena’s cramped, messy quarters to Euridice and Antenor’s lavish, furnished abode. It is even shown in illness, as Ana Gusmão is cared for and regularly visits a doctor as she succumbs to illness, while Filomena’s last years are spent lying at home, taking morphine shots Guida peddled on scraps. Speaking of — Filomena and Guida’s relationship might be the biggest gem, of two women who became family when they had no one else. Though Guida longs for the sister she left behind, there is some good as she found another.

If you enjoy for somber melodrama, The Invisible Life will certainly deliver. But viewer beware: it’s angst piled on angst, and it’s up to you to judge if this drawn-out suffering is worth it.

© Beatrice Viri 1/21/2020

Does The Invisible Life pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Absolutely. Though men are a constant in both Euridice and Guida’s lives, Guida narrates her letters to Euridice, and speaks to her friend Filomena about their struggles.

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Beatrice Viri pursued a degree in Media Studies at Hunter College, specializing in Emerging Media (digital media production). She has experience in graphic design, web development, motion graphics and film, as well as media analysis. For FF2 Media, Bea creates original content for blog publication, writing out prompted ideas that engages audience. 
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