Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2020 6:56 pm 
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A sad song of separated sisters

You know a movie's pretty great if you walk out, and after five or ten minutes outside the theater, only then it hits you and you start to cry. The impact feels subtler that way because it's been deeply implanted, a depth charge set to go off later. It happened to me years ago after watching Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants. I walked out into a grey, drizzly late afternoon Paris and then slowly tears flowed. It just happened again - after watching Karim Aïnouz's delirious rhapsody on two separated sisters in Rio de Janeiro, Invisible Life. The delayed reaction was planted, I'm sure, by the closing credits, glowing reds with a soaring fado, a song of glorious melancholy that made you want to sob and sing. But it was also prepared by the closing scenes of Euridice, now played by the veteran actress Fernanda Montenegro (of the Brazilian classic Central Station). Those are scenes of delayed emotion in themselves. Learning the secret hidden from her for sixty years, the now 90-year-old Eurydice can't know yet how to react.

This, it occurred to me well before the tears came, is why I go to movies, for something strange, dreamy, surprising, and emotionally rich. It shows the NYU-trained Brazilian director, who's now 53, in full command of his phantasmagorical, operatic style for this "tropical melodrama," as it's justifiably billed. The scenes, much aided by the widescreen color cinematography of Hélène Louvart and the sweeping score of Benedikt Schiefer, pulsate with warmth and sweat and color - and exaggerated gestures and actions. It's also the director's most successful, mainstream work.

Invisible Life, adapted by Aïnouz with writers Murilo Hauser and Inés Bortagaray from Martha Batalha's novel The Innvisible Lefe of Euridice Gusmão, is a lush tropical tale to riff on freely with saturated colors and pulsing strings, an exotic weepie providing obviously ideal material for the campy, intense filmmaking of this director. His memorable first feature, Madame Satã , about a Rio drag queen, I reviewed in 2003, likening its "dark and contrasty" images to Chris Doyle's work with Wong Kar Wai. It simultaneously repelled and thrilled me. I wrote of leaving the theater that time "with a curious feeling of exhilaration." Obviously, Aïnouz can pack a wallop. I also noted that the closing "elenco" (credits) of Madame Satã also were "spectacular." He knows how to leave you satisfied.

This is a story of muffled injustice worthy of Douglas Sirk. When we first see them the two grown sisters are great friends and don't want to be apart. In fact, an opening sequence where they get separated and wail out each other's names in the Amazonian rainforest foreshadows what is to come. Euridice (Carol Duarte) is a talented, serious pianist who wants to go to Vienna to study music. The other, Guida (Julia Stockler) is a wild one who has a Greek sailor boyfriend she confides to Euridice about. Guida sneaks off in the night to travel away with Iorgos (Nikolas Antunes) to Greece, planning to marry him. When she later returns, disappointed, jilted, and pregnant, her father Manuel (Antonio Fonseca), who as Guy Lodge says in his Variety review, has a "mean misogynist streak," gives Guida money, condemns her, and expels her forever; her mother stands by and says nothing: after all, it's 1951; mean misogynists rule. Where is Euridice? He tells her she has gone to Vienna to study as she wanted to do.

Actually, she never leaves the country or gets to enter any conservatory, though a few years later she passes the entrance exam of a local one with top honors. Instead she has gotten married to a post office employee, Antenor (Gregório Duvivier). We get a good look at this unattractive man's ridiculous, rough sex on their wedding night. Guida has her baby, but walks away from it, and goes out for a night of carousing. Later she somehow gets her son back, and he becomes a sprightly little boy. When Euridice gets pregnant, the boorish Antenor insists it's going to be a boy, but it's not.

Scenes that follow of Guida's underground life - in Rio - and Euridice's - also there -with her husband and parents, weave back and forth with the voice-over of Guida's stream of letters sent to Euridice via her parents, which she hopes will be forwarded to her in Vienna. But she is kept from seeing them, or Guida. The two sisters never see each other again, and though they almost walk into each other once or twice, they never realize they are living in the same city. Meanwhile we're treated to a depiction of boorish men. Guida seeks another man without luck. Instead she has a woman friend, Filomena (Bárbara Santos), a woman of the streets, who becomes more than close. Filomena's final scenes have the feel of vintage Aïnouz.

Euridice has a searcher for lost persons hunt for her sister, but he fails miserably. When he thinks he has succeeded, she knows he hasn't. These sequences fill us with frustration, resentment and sadness, but they also satisfy the senses in multiple ways. Images burn themselves into your eyeballs, and the music (and ambient sound) are never ordinary. When Euridice plays her audition piece for the local conservatory, the emotion is heightened. I feared a disaster like in Jacques Audiard's The Beat My Heart Skipped. But no: her playing is really good, lusty and thrilling: she is inspired by images of herself and Guida as she plays. Every moment of this film is steeped in rich physicality - and the magical word, used between the sisters early on, saudade, which means longing, nostalgia, melancholy. The saudade of Karim Aïnouz evokes the sweet melancholy of a Milton Nascimento song.

Invisible Life (The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão/A vida invisível de Eurídice Gusmão , 139 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and won its top prize; it played at over two dozen other international festivals. It was Brazil's entry for Best International Feature Film Oscar but was not nominated. It opened in the US (released by The Match Factory and Amazon) December 20, 2019 (France Dec. 10: AlloCiné press rating 4.1). Metascore 82%.


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