Heiresses, The (2018)

Review #1,619

Director:  Marcelo Martinessi
Cast:  Ana Brun, Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova
Plot:  Chela and Chiquita both descend from wealthy families in Asunción and have been together for over 30 years.  But when their debts lead to Chiquita being imprisoned on fraud charges, Chela is forced to face a new reality.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Silver Bear - Best Actress & Alfred Bauer Prize, and FIPRESCI Prize (Berlin)
Runtime:  98 mins
Rating:  R21 (passed clean) for homosexual theme
International Sales:  Luxbox

Marcelo Martinessi’s debut feature boasts one of the most delicate performances in recent years by Ana Brun (also her acting debut), who won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival.  If nothing else, Brun’s work here is worth the admission ticket alone, as she plays Chela, an upper-class elderly lesbian who lives with a similarly-aged woman, Chiquita, in a large house.  One might suspect they are rich in assets, but poor cash-wise, which is why almost everything in their place is up for sale.  Potential buyers would visit them on a regular basis to survey for anything valuable to invest in.  Chiquita is the more outwardly confident person, while Chela is introverted but a remarkably observant woman.  

One day, they receive a letter from the authorities—that Chiquita must serve some time in prison for charges of fraud.  Alone and trying to face a new reality, Chela inadvertently becomes a ‘taxi driver’ for a local group of wealthy senior ladies.  Brun’s performance, understated as it is, relies heavily on her repertoire of naturalistic glances, as she looks around her environment (be it during her weekly prison visit, or as she waits in her car etc.) without showing any real emotions.  The suppression of her emotions into her consistent facial expression, which I would describe as a ‘look of quizzicality’, is a sheer delight to see.  Together with Martinessi’s sensitive direction, The Heiresses gives us a rich, and at times, melancholic thematic treatment of the dialectical tension between the fear of loneliness and the desire for companionship.

Shot in Asunción, The Heiresses is the first Paraguayan film I have ever seen, and amongst some of the higher-profile Latin American films that I have managed to review that emerged in recent years, including Argentina’s Zama (2017), Chile’s Neruda (2016), Venezuela’s From Afar (2015), Colombia’s Embrace of the Serpent (2015) and Mexico’s Güeros (2014).  It may not be flashy or an astounding piece of cinema, but it is certainly a fine work whose unhurried pacing gives viewers the time to breathe and take pleasure in its marvelous subtleties.   

Verdict:  With a lead performance this delicate by Berlin Best Actress winner Ana Brun, this Paraguayan drama about an upper-class elderly lesbian revels in its sensitive direction and unhurried pacing.




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