Chicago Film Fest ’19 Review: Karim Aïnouz’s “The Invisible Life” Thrillingly Brings a Sisterhood to the Surface

You can feel the dew on your skin when “The Invisible Life” begins, as the sights and sounds of the Brazilian beach wrap around you to the point you’re unsure it’ll let go. The resulting sweat seems to have manifested itself into the fabric of the film cinematographer Helene Louvart uses to bring out the deep, rich emerald green of the nearby forest, a natural residue from the warmth that exists in the air, but more specifically between Guida (Julia Stockler) and her sister Euridice (Carol Duarte) when the two are so close. A rare private moment for the pair away from their parents who are eager to marry them off to alleviate the financial burden on the family, the opening salvo of director Karim Aïnouz’s exquisite adaptation of Martha Batalha’s novel “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao” nearly comes off as an invasion of privacy in its intimacy, witnessing the sisters who are at their most passionate and playful when they think no one’s watching.

Guida takes advantage of this freedom more readily than Euridice, wandering off into the woods leaving her sister to call after her in a preview of what’s to come. Once the young women are back home, Guida continues to sneak out, leaving for long nights at the club where she meets a guy from Greece, and in defiance of her parents, runs off with him never to return, or at least as far as the family is concerned. After realizing the man isn’t someone to spend the rest of her days with, Guida comes back to Brazil pregnant, to the great disapproval of her father, who banishes her without letting on to anyone that she’s come back. While Euridice would miss her sister under any circumstances, the absence is particularly brutal when she has no one to confide in as she enters into the arranged marriage Guida managed to avoid to Antenor (Gregório Duvivier), a dullard whose passions only awaken when he wants to have sex, and her own aspirations of pursuing a career as a pianist keep getting pushed back, though an Austrian conservatory beckons.

From afar, Guida writes letters to Euridice that never reach her, but thanks to Aïnouz, these aren’t entirely penned in vain as he employs them as a voiceover to become an entry into her inner thoughts as she pursues a life in exile, living mere miles away from Euridice, but might as well be on another continent. It’s just one of the ways that it seems as if the filmmaker can move heaven and earth in “The Invisible Life,” in which emotional currents are inextricably tied to the climate and a gifted cast and crew rises to the challenge of putting the audience squarely inside of it so every sensation can be felt bone deep. Between the lively performances of Stockler and Duarte that are required to carry the film through the tumultuous 1950s when the sisters move on from their teenage years into lives of domesticity they don’t want without ever losing their restlessness and a sweeping score from Benedikt Schiefer that can connect them even when they’re apart, “The Invisible Life” can feel magical in creating bonds that cannot be broken, whether it’s that of siblings whose love for each other can transcend any distance placed between them or that of a work of art that can reach right into your soul.

“The Invisible Life” will screen at the Chicago Film Festival on October 27th at 7:30 pm at the AMC River East 21. It will open in limited release on December 20th.