Once upon a time in Rio de Janeiro there lived two beautiful sisters, Eurídice and Guida, around whom whirled a symphony of light and music. The reflective, interiorized Eurídice (Carol Duarte) devotes her life to the study of European classical piano. Her impulsive older sister Guida (Julia Stockler), however, is ruled by her emotions, especially her burning desire for love.
After five or ten minutes of Karim Aïnouz’s emotionally vivid, ultra-colorful Invisible Life, the youthful sisters’ fairy tale life together dissolves into a different type of archetypal urban narrative, the one about the path not taken. Guida falls in love with a Greek sailor passing through town, and over the objections of their imperious father (António Fonseca), runs away with the foreigner. Left behind by her closest companion, Eurídice consoles herself by pursuing a concert career and, far less successfully, by marrying a crude, dull man (Gregório Duvivier).
As the tale would have it — the screenplay by director Aïnouz, Murilo Hauser, and Inés de Bortagaray is adapted from a novel by Martha Batalha — the cruel father insists to Eurídice that Guida now lives permanently in Europe, long after the older sister has returned to Rio. He even hides the letters Guida writes to her long-lost confidant. And so the two siblings exist in separate spheres in the same city, each one believing the other is gone forever.
The film is a riot of natural splendor, mythical overtones, and pungent scenes of love and sex, set to Benedikt Schiefer’s lush musical score and Eurídice’s Chopin and Liszt. The flavors of 1950s-era Brazil lend themselves beautifully to this tragically romantic story, built on the geometry of thwarted desire. If we squint our eyes, the regretful love affairs of a Gabriel García Márquez novel come floating into the frame. And if the sisters’ unfulfilled dreams ever threaten to drive them mad, the words of Guida’s godmother-of-the-slums friend Filomena (Bárbara Santos) are there to bring us down to earth: “Poor people don’t have the time to go insane.”