The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão: They don’t often make them like this any more

Review: This old-school melodrama about unhappy sisters is anything but miserablism

‘I discovered what it means to be a woman alone in this world,’ writes Guida (Julia Stockler) in an undelivered letter to her sister. Photograph: Bruno Machado

Film Title: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Starring: Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler, Gregorio Duvivier, Bárbara Santos, Flávia Gusmão, Maria Manoella, Antônio Fonseca, Cristina Pereira, Gillray Coutinho, Fernanda Montenegro

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 139 min

Fri, Oct 15, 2021, 05:00

   

This hugely delayed release of the winner of Un Certain Regard at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival was worth waiting for. An old-school, lush melodrama featuring long-suffering women, period costumes, and an epic temporal span that starts in Rio de Janeiro during the 1950s, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão strikes the perfect balance between awards bait and telenovela. 

Eurídice (Carol Duarte) is the younger and shier of two poignantly close Brazilian sisters. A talented pianist, she dreams of studying at the conservatory in Vienna, although her sibling Guida (Julia Stockler) makes it to Europe first when she elopes with a Greek sailor. Guida returns to the family, pregnant and ruined in her father Manuel’s estimation. 

“I discovered what it means to be a woman alone in this world,” writes Guida in an undelivered letter to Eurídice. It’s a discovery that is grimly revisited as the disowned Guida attempts to raise a child in the slums of Estácio. She, at least, finds some companionship and a surrogate mother figure in Filomena (Bárbara Santos), an ageing prostitute.

Loveless marriage

 Eurídice meanwhile is trapped in a loveless marriage and isolating motherhood to local brute Antenor (Gregório Duvivier). The marital rape that characterises their wedding night sets the tone of the ghastly relationship. Her sister may have to do unspeakable things to provide a vial of morphine for a dying friend, but Eurídice is no freer from patriarchal constraints than Guida.

 Manuel keeps the sisters apart: by informing Guida that Eurídice is studying in Austria, and by failing to mention Guida’s return to Eurídice. There are moments in the years that pass when the sisters come agonisingly close to a much-desired reunion. 

 Cinematographer Hélène Louvart – known for her collaborations with Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, and Alice Rohrwache – finds a lavish seam to offset the miserabilism. Carol Duarte and Julia Stockler are movingly stoical. The screenplay, adapted by Murilo Hauser, Inés Bortagaray and director Karim Aïnouz, is expertly calibrated. They don’t often make them like this any more.