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November 03, 2019

Denver Film Festival - Invisible Life


A Vida Invisível
Karim Ainouz - 2019
Amazon Studios

One of the recurring visual motifs in Invisible Life is the use of frames within frames as restricted spaces. There are a couple of shots where there is an open door in the middle of the field of vision, but the viewer is not able to see what is going on the room. In one key scene, the disinherited daughter, Guida, is in a restaurant that has an aquarium. Through the aquarium glass, she spies her father sitting at a table. Reduced to a working class existence, Guida is forcibly restricted from eating at the restaurant by a doorman claiming the empty tables are all reserved.

Most of Invisible Life takes place in Rio de Janeiro between 1950 and 1958. It is the story of two sisters, daughters of a baker, whose lives take unexpected turns after Guida runs away from home to marry a Greek sailor. Guida is banished from her solidly middle-class home by her father after returning home, pregnant. Euridice, an aspiring concert pianist, has married her father's business associate, and has been left unaware that Guida has returned to Rio. Time is indicated by off-screen reading of letters between the two sisters, correspondence that is never received. The two imagine the idealized lives of each other.

Euridice has the concrete goal of wanting to go to a music conservatory in Vienna, while Guida is searching for a sense of family. Both women are thwarted by patriarchal traditions, first with their father, who dismisses Euridice's desire to be a professional musician, and keeps the sisters separated due to his sense of shame. Euridice's husband is hardly better than her father, not understanding why a woman might want more than to be a wife and mother. If women aren't wives, they are expected to be available sexually. The sex here is awkward at best, at worst a distasteful transaction out desperation. Guida's existence may be hard-scrabble, but she finds a kind of salvation in establishing an informal family with a former prostitute.

Ainouz background prior to becoming a filmmaker was in architecture. His previous work has also involved exploration in both the physical and psychological spaces of people, especially where there are marked class differences. When Euridice and Guida are first introduced, they are in a jungle. But it is a jungle that is not far away from the city, visible are Sugarloaf Mountain and the giant Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio. The two sisters lose track of each other within this jungle. There is no resolution, so that it is never quite clear whether they found each later or if this scene is symbolic of their relationship in the main narrative. The film ends in the way it began, but with secrets eventually revealed leading to a kind of reconciliation.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 3, 2019 07:12 AM