The Heiresses

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Heiresses
"This film displays a deftness of touch."

The Heiresses are Chela and Chiquita, two women from wealthy Paraguayan families, existing in the very particular destitution of the privileged. Asset-rich, cash poor, outlines on the wall where original art once hung. Jail beckons.

Not as a consequence of some gloriously complex heist - this film isn't Nine Queens. For a start its cast is almost exclusively female. Nor is it Ocean's 8. This is about a bourgeois decline, the conversion of debt to fraud through the use of promissory notes. It's not vultures that are circling, but a very particular class of friend, a very particular kind of wealth.

Chiquita (Margarita Trun) is the one bound for this debtor's gaol, leaving Chela (Ana Brun, in an exceptional performance) behind. Brun bears the weight of the film, I don't think there's a scene without her, in a performance that has already won her a Silver Bear at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, Chela is left behind with a new maid, an old car, and free time. Nilda Gonzalez's Pati is a performance overshadowed by Brun's, but narrowly - in a film full of subtleties there is a lot conveyed in gesture and pace, steps towards denouement.

The old car is a pristine green Mercedes 240d. A request for a lift from a neighbour (Maria Martins, whose Pituca is a shark in the still waters (and gin) of afternoon card games) gives Chela new drive - through her there are new opportunities, new landscapes, new roads, new affections.

The Shape Of Water allowed its female protagonist sexual agency in a way not often seen, and so too The Heiresses. Marcelo Martinessi's d├ębut feature demonstrates a similar grace in terms of allowing its cast to reveal character without feeling exploitative, delicately managing that line between intimacy and intrusion. The arrival of Angy (Ana Ivanova) disturbs what had already been a punctuated equilibrium, and what follows is beautiful.

There are small details, indicators of lives lived. Chela's tray for her painting table, with its precise arrangements of pills and small bottle of Diet Coke ("never Zero") and a glass of water with no ice and a napkin with a ring and a cup of coffee and the bottle of what is probably apricot brandy or cinnamon liqueur. That last is because it's a Bols Ballerina, but reading anything into it beyond the presence of a dancing figure, still, behind two layers of glass, trapped in an alcoholic vitrine, knowing that - that'd be intentional. To know (as you do now) that it must have been imported from the Netherlands, that it can't be much less than 40 years old, that if it's not the apricot then it had flakes of gold suspended in it, that's all subsequent detail that shows care, attention, grace.

Written and directed by Martinessi, this film displays a deftness of touch. Little things, like moments where what might have been score proved to be sound from the next scene, the radio diegetically, where the geography of the house is best revealed at a point where it doesn't matter, all those little techniques that make a film a thing constructed with an awareness of the medium. We describe some novels as 'literary' and some films also interpret those conventions. Some do so as adaptations themselves (say, Zama), others in other ways (say, various Del Toro works), and I really like it when it works. It does here.

A vagary of subtitling meant that every accented character (and there are plenty) was replaced with an asterisk in the version Eye For Film saw, but I won't blame the film. Made with the involvement of 28 funds (at least by my count in the credits) there'd be a worry about producerial interference but there's no evidence on the screen. What is demonstrated, from cast, and crew, is talent. The Heiresses is a treasure - pass it on.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2018
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When Chiquita is sent to prison for debt, her introverted girlfriend Chela is left to her own devices. Chela offers rich women a taxi service in her old car. As she explores the outside world she also starts to focus on her own desires.
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Director: Marcelo Martinessi

Writer: Marcelo Martinessi

Starring: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins

Year: 2018

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Paraguay, Uruguay, Germany, Brazil, Norway


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