After his boss and friend, Antonio (João Perry), falls ill and is hospitalised, civil servant, Hugo (Filipe Duarte), finds himself in a mid-life crisis as he retreats into his memories, recalling an unfulfilled life of missed opportunities.
Hugo is the picture of disenchantment. He is quiet, reclusive – happy when his office building is removed of all other people at night – and unsure of himself; often withdrawing, quite literally, into the shadows of his office space and home. He often sits in silence and occasionally throws things or gesticulates in anger – sometimes his ambling is partnered with a narration in which Hugo airs his thoughts and feelings.
One day, Hugo, while going through Antonio’s possessions, finds 8mm film footage which Vitor Gonçalves litters throughout the film. Grainy, shaky landscape shots of beaches, boats drifting aimlessly like Hugo, cliffsides and mountains.
The experience also prompts a reunion between Hugo and his ex-partner, Adriana (Maria João Pinho), and late night conversations with a mysterious man in his building, Sandro (Pedro Lamares), who may or may not be a figment of the listless civil servant’s imagination, who is seemingly always obscured in shadow.
And shadows play an important part in The Invisible Life. Much of it is shot in darkness as Hugo drifts in and out of view. The twilight of his home life combined with the austere architecture and old, musty set design of the government building in which he works (often lacking of any sort of accompanying music) act as a sensory nod to Hugo’s detachment and loneliness.
Frequent shots of Lisbon’s Commerce Square: a place synonymous with many important historical events in Portuguese history, allude to an individual who fears he has failed to leave any indelible mark on the world. ‘I imagined someone coming into my house after I had died,’ mumbles Hugo as he stands in Antonio’s empty apartment before pondering, ‘Who would that person be?’
Hugo seems to have moved through his whole life invisibly, failing to make any meaningful, lasting connections with the people around him. But the lack of any context to compellingly drive the narrative, as well as some extremely wooden, uneven performances from the small cast, leaves The Invisible Life feeling ponderous and dreary. (4)