The Heiresses Review
Paraguay’s cinematic footprint is hardly bursting at the seams and only since the end Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship in 1989 has the country finally begun to find its celluloid voice. Seen within that context, The Heiresses (Las herederas) will no doubt serve as an important point of reference in years to come while also announcing notice of the arrival of a bold new talent in writer-director Marcelo Martinessi.
Fans of slow cinema will warm to this quiet character profile that takes us into the inner life of an ageing middle class woman who has arrived unexpectedly at a crossroads in her life. Chela (Ana Brun) comes from an affluent family and has enjoyed the trappings of wealth since birth, although a once grand home is running into decay and prized heirlooms and possessions are now being auctioned off to keep the lights on.
Chela has been living with her partner Chiquita (Margarita Irun) for many years and despite the change in circumstances is determined to keep up appearances in front of her circle of well-to-do friends and acquaintances. Chiquita is the more outgoing of the two but careless with money and a pending prison sentence for fraud hangs over her head. Once they are separated a journey of self-discovery awaits Chela, who inadvertently falls into running a localised taxi service before meeting Angy (Ana Ivanova) whose confidence opens her eyes to life outside of her stale relationship.
Piece-by-piece Martinessi chips into Chela’s psyche, watching her move from denial about her position in life to embody a person finally able to breathe and smell the roses once more. Chiquita has been leading their relationship for years and her reckless actions have left Chela facing up to her home and family history being picked off by strangers. Yet while Chiquita is locked in a cell Chela is able to break free of her own inertia to regain a sense of agency without being dominated by the presence of her partner.
Ana Brun won the award for best performer at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and it is deserved recognition for a wonderfully understated performance. Despite her inexperience as an actress she manages to sensitively express the changing landscape of Chela’s emotional state. Brun shows us a woman finally reconnecting to her senses and coming to terms with the choices made in her life up to this moment, understanding time is still on her side to make the decisions that will allow her to become the person she always wanted to be.
Martinessi keeps the narrative lean and simple without relying on contrivances or melodrama and by placing full faith in his cast to read between the lines of his script. He addresses wealth, status and sexuality in modern day Paraguay through the eyes of a woman undergoing a gradual transformation that will eventually allow her to blossom, shedding the weight of her family’s past and removing societal expectations from her shoulders. At times The Heiresses walks a fine line between being slight and a little too subtle but it rewards those patient enough to see it through to the end.