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CANNES 2019 Un Certain Regard

Karim Aïnouz • Director of The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão

“I cast by asking people to send in videos of themselves peeling potatoes for three minutes”

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- CANNES 2019: Karim Aïnouz spoke to us about this year’s Un Certain Regard Prize winner, the Brazilian-German co-production The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão

Karim Aïnouz  • Director of The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão
(© Bruno Machado)

The Brazilian-German co-production The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Karim Aïnouz
film profile
]
 won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s a tropical melodrama set in the 1950s about two sisters who lose touch with each other and was adapted from the 2015 novel by Martha Batalha. It is the seventh film by Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz. His debut, Madame Satã, played in Un Certain Regard in 2002, and he has had other films play in the Directors’ Fortnight, Venice’s Orizzonti and the Berlinale Competition and Panorama.

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Cineuropa: What made you want to make a period film set in the 1950s? 
Karim Aïnouz: In 2015, my mother passed away. She was a single mother, and I realised that very few people knew what our life had been like. It had not been super rough, but she had to raise me and find money. I wanted to talk about this generation of women who are now in their eighties and nineties, who are about to disappear. What was it like to live at a time when you couldn’t divorce, the sexual revolution had not happened yet, and there was no contraceptive pill? I think that in Brazil, the post-war period was a time when there were very strong conservative values regarding family. 

Although it’s set in the 1950s, your musical choices in the film are often more modern. What was the thinking behind that?
The movie does not look at the past with reverence. It’s not nostalgic, and it’s more than about just constructing a world that is loyal to the moment; it’s also about constructing a world that is useful for the story. I was working with a composer, and he was using instruments that were really old. I said, “Listen, electronic music was invented by women by the 1950s, so why can’t we have a synthesiser here?” There is some very modern music from the 1950s that we think is from the 1970s. It’s also about making a film about the past that is interesting to audiences who are not old, and one of the ways to do that is through music.

The sex scenes we see on screen are brutal; were they as brutal in the novel? 
The sex scenes are brutal in the book, but I also interviewed women who grew up in the 1950s, and I took the liberty of asking them what it was like the first time they saw a penis, or the first time they had sex or saw a man naked. Of course, it differed from person to person, but some kind of violence was very prevalent.

How did you cast the leading actresses? 
First of all, I do a casting where I ask people to make a video of themselves peeling potatoes for three minutes. I remember the screen tests that Marilyn Monroe did in the 1950s, and you either have it or you don’t. I think 90% of our job is to identify that. Julia Stockler had just come out of film school and was recommended to me. I then found Carol Duarte, who has a strong background in theatre.

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