Monday 10 September 2018

The Heiresses (Paraguay/Germany 2018: Dir Marcelo Martinessi)

Chela and Chiquita live together in a rather grand house whose possessions, as the film opens, are gradually being sold off. Chela witnesses the buyers browsing the possessions for sale from inside a cupboard, clearly ashamed at the situation. For we learn that both women, although from wealthy backgrounds, have fallen on hard times, literally reduced to selling off the family silver; in addition her more outgoing partner Chiquita is about to be imprisoned for fraud, and Chela, a painter who has clearly lived in Chiquita's shadow for a long time, must make adjustments to face her immediate future as a single woman.

Part of the charm of Marcelo Martinessi's debut feature is the way that the story of the two women gradually unfolds, the circumstances of their lives being unveiled slowly and carefully, and their characters unfolding in response to their circumstances. While Chiquita is sanguine about her imminent incarceration, Chela worries herself to the point where she can't get out of bed, and takes on a maid to help her cope and to ensure that the rituals of her life are maintained.

It is when Chiquita finally arrives in prison - an obviously 'open' facility which is more like a marketplace, and where none of the inmates seem particularly bothered about their confinement - that The Heiresses comes into its own. Forced to cope without her partner, Chela slowly faces the world, which changes for her when a chance lift offered to a neighbour develops into her providing an impromptu taxi service using her father's car, despite not holding a license. it's while performing this service that she meets Angy, the daughter of one of her neighbour's friends, and realises the possibility of something physical again.

The Heiresses is an elegant, quietly passionate film which foregrounds the lives and aspirations of older women, stories that mainstream cinema still tells all too rarely. Ana Brun is inspiring as Chela, transforming from a woman whose life is lived through others, to one who realises her own possibilities, while maintaining a continuing bewilderment at the world around her. This is a very quiet personal revolution, illustrated through subtle actions; the slow removal of the 'for sale' sticker from her father's car, which she has been using as her taxi and her liberation, is Chela's equivalent of a fist pump. But it's her relationship first with Chiquita (Margarita Irun) then with relative force of nature Angy (Ana Ivanova) which shows the extent of her transformation; a scene where Angy teaches Chela how to smoke, for example, is in its unassuming way incredibly sensual.

The cast of almost exclusively female characters surrounding Chela and Chiquita is also impressive (men don't feature in this movie, except as annoyances), particularly Angy's mother Pituca (Maria Martins), caustic and snobby, a woman who personifies Dorothy Parker's famous comment "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me." A great film, sad and funny, full of small details, and well worth your time.

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