The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao eradicates nostalgia

Karim Aïnouz’s film of Martha Batalha’s novel explores class and privilege, pointing out that hindsight isn’t always 20/20.

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao , Brazil’s official submission for the 2019 Foreign Language Film Oscar, tells the story of two sisters, Euridice and Guida, growing up in a conservative family. Based on a novel by Martha Batalha, the film opens in the 1950s in Rio de Janeiro as Guida falls in love with a Greek sailor and Euridice, the younger sister, dreams of becoming a professional pianist. Over the decades, we will follow as the pair face the struggles and tribulations of the real world. Lushly saturated and epic in scale, the film not only captures a sense of time and space but the subjective reality of their emotional highs and lows.

What is immediately striking about The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao are the velvety textures. The colour palette, rich in vibrant, warm colours painted in chiaroscuro lighting, often feels shielded from the sun. Most of the film takes place either indoors or in closed-off crowded spaces. In stark contrast to the larger than life ambitions and romanticism of the characters, their world often seems small and guarded. The trappings of their gilded cage and the limits imposed by religion, gender and class consistently closing around them are only barely concealed by the immense beauty of their pampered world. 

While beauty seems to offer both status and mobility in equal terms, it serves to entrap the young women. Their physical prowess and their increased alienation from their bodies as they age, get pregnant and give birth is intimately tied into their value as people within the society. While beauty, quite obviously, offers power, it is limited in terms of time and scope. And the elegance of environments, beautiful homes and modern apartments similarly come to symbolize how far these characters have fallen from their dreams and aspirations. Comfort, rather than being pleasurable, becomes a means of control. Continually, the necessary creature comforts lord above the sisters as threats: stay in line, or you’ll lose not only the luxuries but the necessities, too. Turning your back on what is predestined by your family and society might as well mean choosing death.

Without having read Batalha’s novel, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels come to mind while watching the film. They both deal with the parallel lives of women who aspire to leave their neighbourhood and regain dignity and humanity in their lives. They are decade-spanning portraits of changing worlds and the tumult of moving from one life stage to another, especially for women who in culture and art too often lose their value and importance once they exit their early 20s. 

What Ferrante’s works and The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao also share in common is the subversion of nostalgia. They take the images and memories of important moments from Italy and Brazil’s past, dress them up beautifully and tear them down. Brazil’s current leadership, a right-wing government represented by populist leader Jair Bolsanaro, has repeatedly used slogans like “Let’s make Brazil Great! Let’s be proud of our homeland once again!” He has also heavily romanticized the nation’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985, yearning for the eras portrayed in The Invisible Life. The film, though, is hardly romantic about that era. It uses its melodrama to counter the illusion of a secure and free Brazil of the past, and the personal cost of oppression via religious and cultural policies.

As the film spans over half a century, some of the leaps in time are jarring, especially towards the last act. The final “chapters” take a moment to adjust to, as they differ so significantly from the rest of the film but serve to emphasize the already established ideas and to emphasize the indiscriminate power of time. As much as it is about two sisters, the film is about memory and how easily we forget the past. The story of Euridice and Guida doesn’t hold national importance in the sense that their lives initiated the change. Still, they are essential for reflecting the consciousness and consequences of policies, beliefs and circumstances. Their lives are invisible in a grand sense, even if they are representative and vital in understanding the relationship between the past and present. 

In light of a global political shift towards the right, films like The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao dismisses the idea that things were so much better back in the day. On the surface, the lush visuals signal a sense of romanticization of the past. Still, time and time again, the film emphasizes the hopelessness of the character’s circumstances and the mundane nature of the cruelty they face. The struggles in their lives are rarely random and hardly confined to the personal failure of themselves or family members, they are directly caused by the cultural and social norms that keep them locked away in their cages and hidden from the light of opportunity and freedom.  ■

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Jan 3. Watch the trailer below.

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