Lo Invisible, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Javier Andrade.
Starring Anahi Hoeneisen, Matilde Lagos, Gerson Guerra, Juan Lorenzo Barragán, Paola Navarrete, and Cristina Marchán.
When Luisa returns from a psychiatric clinic after a bout of severe postpartum depression, she enters a new confinement in her dazzling home, surrounded by family members and a brigade of servants who expect her struggles to remain invisible. Unable to continue playing the role of the perfect housewife, Luisa’s only escape is to waltz elegantly into madness.
Javier Andrade (The Porcelain Horse) delivers the first Ecuadorian film to play at TIFF in almost 20 years with Lo Invisible, a low-key drama about a difficult subject too-often cloistered away in both media and society – postpartum depression.
While Andrade’s film may understandably prove too elliptical for some tastes, it nevertheless derives a quiet power from a thoughtful performance by Anahí Hoeneisen, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Andrade.
45-year-old Luisa (Hoeneisen) has just returned home to her gorgeous hillside abode after a stint at a mental institution, due to being accused of trying to harm her newborn baby. Though Luisa has all the superficial comforts one could seemingly want – namely a lush home stocked with hired help – she finds herself constantly swimming against the high tide of depression, feeding her inability to connect with her baby and also find a keen sense of self.
From start to finish, Andrade’s film is one of few words, opting to linger instead on both what isn’t said, and what Luisa conveys to the audience through her actions, facial expressions, and body language. Boxed into the empty quiet of her home, Luisa is unable to find solace as her husband, son, and an army of employed maids and minders continue their day-to-day lives around her, mostly unwilling to countenance her dwindling mental health.
Though there are brief flashes of what may or may not be the traumatic, ambiguous incident where Luisa allegedly harmed her baby, Andrade mostly prefers to observe in non-judgmental fashion. Often we’ll hear Luisa’s baby screaming through the night all while she, despite also hearing it, can’t bring herself to tend to her child – and even when she does, the lack of a “maternal instinct” is painfully apparent.
There’s very little in the way of open pathology here, but the dialogue – of which there isn’t much throughout – and imagery do posit possibilities. Do Luisa’s periodic feats of self-destruction and self-harm – such as wilfully stepping on glass, and looking keenly upon her family’s friendly security guard – represent a desire to attain control in a world where she seems to have little? There are other implications should audiences decide to read into them, even if it’s all ultimately moving towards a sure-to-divide, thoroughly opaque ending.
With its willfully minimalist, spare style – capably lensed though it is by Daniel Andrade – the film’s success hinges largely on the central work by Hoeneisen, whose expressive, battle-worn face is captivating even in the pic’s most testing moments.
The blank way she stares at her own baby, the staggered breathing, and the secret violence she inflicts upon herself – her disconnect is palpably felt throughout, and by never building to a predictable display of volcanic hysteria it feels all the more real. Brace yourself for a terrifically-acted scene in which Luisa quietly destroys her son’s piano teacher for her choice of extra-curricular activity.
Lo Invisible doesn’t express much of an interest in verbose, obvious melodrama, and its final scene will surely raise its fair share of eyebrows, but Andrade is smart to leverage it all on the fine work of his leading lady, who surprisingly enough has just four acting credits to her name.
A slight-yet-stirring portrait of a woman racked by postpartum depression, elevated by Anahí Hoeneisen’s searing performance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.