Economically crumbling Paraguay after many years of patriarchal dictatorship is the setting for a subtle story of female self-discovery in Marcelo Martinessi’s The Heiresses.
Drive They Saidby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Two late-middle-aged women, together for 30 years, live carefully in the faded grandeur of a mansion that has seen better days. Chiquita (Margarita Irun) is outgoing and pragmatic, Chela (Ana Brun) is withdrawn, depressive and artistic. To survive, which for them means to maintain the privileged lifestyle to which they are accustomed, they are literally selling the family silver of both their wealthy families, plus other possessions such as antique furniture and paintings. The house is slowly emptying.
Writer/director Marcelo Martinessi in his debut film (Las Herederas), has this world darkly lit, enclosed, almost shrouded and shots of the women’s daily life are framed through the restricted views of doorways and keyholes. It’s as if their life is under wraps. That is, until their longstanding routines are forced to temporarily diverge. Chiquita is imprisoned in a noisy, chaotic women’s prison for the debts that they both can’t pay – where she turns out to be very much at home with the working-class prisoners. Chela is left to cope alone for the first time in the house with their inexperienced, illiterate but warm-hearted maid Pati (Nilda Gonzalez). To live without a maid, no matter how hard up they are or how untrained the maid, would be unthinkable but Pati has to be carefully taught by Chiquita how to prepare Chela’s precisely arranged tray of water and pills – a symbol that returns later.
When Chela’s waspish, elderly, rich neighbour Pituca (Maria Martins) asks her a favour – to drive her to her weekly card game with her equally ancient ‘girls’ – Chela is mistaken for a taxi driver. Despite the loss of status this means, to her surprise she embraces this new role and her life takes an unexpected turn. One of her passengers, Angy (Ana Ivanova), a sensual young woman so different to the older, conventional generation, opens Chela’s eyes to another – tantalising – way of life.
It’s a film in which all the major characters are women, and all their performances are outstanding. The restricted settings are claustrophobic – the dark house, the noisy, crowded women’s prison, the formal card game and the enclosed interior of Chela’s car. It’s implied that this is a city, a country and a class that has survived its upheavals through silence and restraint. Ana Brun is superb as she unobtrusively conveys Chela’s poignant inner and outer journeys through eyes and body. Quietly, we see her confidence in the possibilities of her life and in her driving both increase. It’s a film with a small focus but it’s intriguing, memorable and very powerful.
The Heiresses premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where Ana Brun won the Best Actress award, and is released on 10 August 2018 in the UK.