The Invisible Life
A sluggish effort from Portuguese director Vitor Goncalves, returning to filmmaking after almost 30 years
Portuguese director Vitor Gonçalves was much-celebrated for his 1986 debut A Girl in Summer, but has taken until now to follow it up – with a piece that’s sadly unlikely to put him back on the map. With awkwardly theatrical acting, zero expositional information to contextualise the protagonist’s relentless state of stroppy angst, and a very uneven tone, this is a sluggish effort to create a Last Year In Marienbad-style enigma about love, loss and loneliness.
A man called Hugo shuffles about feeling unaccountably fractious about the fact that his older colleague, Antonio, who he doesn’t know very well or care about much, is unwell. Hugo puts his head in his hands a lot; sometimes he throws things across rooms. He has a terrible ex-wife or ex-girlfriend called Adriana who is always laughing at him condescendingly and abruptly leaving rooms. They keep saying that they’re going to have dinner, BUT THEY NEVER HAVE DINNER. Sometimes somebody called Sandro emerges from the shadows (there are a lot of shadows) and asks Hugo a sinister question about his office set-up. Sandro may be a figment of Hugo’s imagination, or a stalker, or a filing cabinet salesman.
Hints that Antonio’s death has some sorter of grand significance come to nothing, and the relationship is just two quite obnoxious people saying vague things to each other. At least the Sandro bits are funny – although perhaps unintentionally so. Not every film has to explain itself fully, of course; but to engage with an emotional mystery, you really have to feel something for or at least be beguiled by the characters or their situation, and this film just gives too little to earn the audience’s investment. There are some lovely visual compositions to break up the monotony, by cinematographer Leonardo Simoes.
Reviewed at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.