Invisible Life: And We Only Miss Them All the Time, by David Bax
Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life is, to put it lightly, not a positive portrayal of marriage, specifically as it exists for women who live in a family, a culture or a time in which it is the only option offered to them, the only visible path. The men in the movie’s world are stubborn, like the father (António Fonseca) who disowns his daughter for being pregnant out of wedlock and refuses to mention even her name. Or they are childish, like the husband (Gregório Duvivier) who stomps and pouts when his wife rebuffs him in the bedroom. Or they are simply indifferent to the patriarchy’s cruelty, like the government official who won’t approve a passport for a minor without the father’s authorization, even though the father has never met his child. For women like sisters Eurídice (Julia Stockler) and Guida (Carol Duarte), the only respite is to find another woman who understands with whom to commiserate.
Unfortunately, Eurídice don’t have one another to fill that role. When Guida runs off with a sailor, Eurídice is essentially forced to marry the man who was meant for her sister. Shortly after, Guida returns, spurned by the sailor and pregnant but she is turned away by her father and told that Eurídice has moved out of the country. Meanwhile, Eurídice is told that Guida never came back at all. Invisible Life tells the story of two sisters living parallel lives in 1950s Rio de Janeiro, neither knowing how much the other is thinking about them.
Making a brief return during a slow motion nightclub sequence are the warm reds of Aïnouz’s 2002 debut, Madame Satã. But most of Invisible Life is sad blue and muted green, with occasional humidity smudges on the camera lens that let you know how hard it is to be comfortable and happy in this life.
That’s not actually the fault of the weather or the color palette, of course. It’s the codified constraints under which these women live. Invisible Life would make a fine companion piece to Deniz Ergüven’s Mustang, another film about the destructive force of moralistic sexual repression. Eurídice and Guida are kept ignorant about sex and given bad advice by the few willing to talk to them about it. Eurídice’s wedding night consummation–apparently the first time she’s seen a penis–is skin-crawlingly unromantic. After her new husband has flopped and grunted on top of her, he blithely smiles and holds their recently ring-adorned hands together, as if to say, “This is marriage.”
That’s only the first of many scenes in Invisible Life that me want to cover my eyes and retreat into myself out of discomfiture. Between painful-looking sex and even more painful-looking childbirth, womanhood itself is presented as a curse. And from Guida’s post-labor vaginal distress to their dying mother’s (Flávia Gusmão) raw bedsores, life itself is presented as disgusting.
Then, just past the midpoint, there’s a large jump forward in time and the film settles into a kind of resting melancholy state. Now, instead of being excruciating, life for Eurídice and Guida has become sad. And they are largely numb to it. Until, that is, the numbness breaks like a dam and emotional crashes over us in the film’s powerful final sequence. Invisible Life, like regular life, is often unpleasant but too full of feeling and experience to be discounted.