What to watch: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

Serving up the drama of the women of Brazil.

What to watch: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is the latest film from Karim Ainouz. You will probably have seen his 2014 film, Futuro Beach.

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao was Brazil’s entry for the 2020 Oscars, and has won numerous awards on the festival circuit – including the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes Film Festival 2019.

This is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Martha Batalha.

The story focuses on Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Julia Stockler) – two inseparable sisters living under the oppressive discipline of their conservative father, Manuel (Antônio Fonseca). It’s 1950 in Rio de Janeiro and the girls dream of better lives abroad – Eurídice, as a professional pianist in Vienna, and Guida wants to be the wife of a Greek sailor that she’s fallen for.

When Guida becomes pregnant, she is banished from the household and forbidden to have any contact with the family. Guida is told that Euridice has gone to Vienna, and Euridice is told that Guida is in Greece. In reality, both sisters are living in Rio and kept apart by lies.

I caught up with Karim Ainouz for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

You’ve talked about wanting to adapt this story as a film as a way of honouring the women in your life. Did that add additional emotional complexity to the process of bringing these characters to the screen?

I think that the ‘familiar’ and the ‘biographical’ are very important features of my work, of my research. I was raised by women, so the most consistent part of my upbringing was done in the midst of very strong female figures.

They were the ones who helped me get in touch with the stories of Guida and Euridice, who opened the paths, who let me dive into this universe.

The suture between the autobiographical and my characters is something that is very present in my work, so instead of hindering it was precisely the opposite that took place as I was crafting the adaptation of the novel.

Did you bring any autobiographical elements of the women in your life into the film, or did you restrict yourself to the source material of the novel?

Invisible Life is very autobiographical in nature.

The book that gave rise to the film was a compass for the film, but I understand that what is presented on the screen is more of a translation of the book anchored in the characters of Guida and Euridice – the characters more than the plot is what is more present in the movie.

I read the book just shortly after the passing of my mother. In this sense, it was the possibility of telling the story of women like her on film that made me want to embark on this project.

Invisible Life is an homage to women of that generation, who are today our mothers and grandmothers, who had to find ways to survive in a society completely blind to their existence.

The protagonists, in this sense, have a lot in common my mother, grandmother and aunts and all the other women who were an essential part of my life.

It was interesting to read how you really embraced the genre of melodrama with this film. Has this given you a taste for melodrama?

The more I developed the script, the more I understood it needed to be a melodrama.

The film tells the story of people who are ignored, oppressed – it deals with things that are not clearly shown, but which are conveyed through the emotions of the characters.

Working with the codes of melodrama is a political strategy, but a desire to set the viewer in the same position as the characters, so that they forget themselves in this story.

I love the possibilities that melodrama offers for crafting stories of those at the margins.

The opportunity to work with Fernanda Montenegro was obviously very special. Was it difficult to get her involved in the project?

When I thought about cast, Fernanda Montenegro’s name came immediately to my mind.

Fernanda is an inescapable symbol in Brazilian culture, of resistance and resilience. She is one of the greatest Brazilian actresses of all times.

It fascinated me to think that she, more than anyone else, could embody Euridice at a later age.

The film revolves a lot around letters and this coincidence is beautiful – it was through a handwritten letter that I invited her to be part of the film, and to my enormous surprise and extreme joy she accepted.

The film has obviously been hugely successful – did you feel confident that you had a winner as you saw it coming together?

Independent of that, from the very beginning I really wanted people to be moved, to cry, to vibrate, to relate emotionally with the characters. When I saw this happening at the screenings and in such an intense way – I received many testimonials and letters telling personal stories that were related to the plot, I had a lot of exchange with the public – I began to feel that perhaps there was something very powerful in the film, which until then I had not realised.

But I never imagined that it would be as appreciated as it ended up being.

What do you hope that people feel when watching the film?

I want people to be moved.

I would love for audiences to relate to the experience of Guida and Euridice. And by doing so, I hope I have crafted a movie about patriarchy and how terribly toxic it can be.

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is opening in cinemas on 15 October and will also be available on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema digitally.