The Heiresses




A woman’s world convincingly portrayed in a work created by a male filmmaker.

Heiresses, The

Ana Ivanova and Ana Brun


I must confess to feeling somewhat nonplussed by The Heiresses a first feature from Paraguay both written and directed by Marcelo Martinessi. It’s a film with a strong central performance by Ana Brun, but the writing seem too oblique for one to be certain exactly what Martinessi was seeking to express.


Brun’s role is that of Chela. She’s a representative of the wealthy classes although we meet her at a time when debts are causing her to sell up the contents of the house in which she was born and in which she has lived for many years with Chiquita (Margarita Irún) who looks after her. Chela, now over fifty years old, is also facing the fact that a bank is suing Chiquita on fraud charges and that she will be incarcerated for some time even though lawyers may be able to work something out (just how Paraguayan law functions in this respect is not really made clear). However, Chiquita, knowing that Chela frequently stays indoors and relies on being looked after, has found a foreigner, Pati (Nilda Gonzalez), to act as her maid during her absence.


Plot descriptions of The Heiresses tend to stress this set up but reveal also that, with Chiquita gone, Chela starts to use the family car to drive friends to and from bridge games, providing in effect a taxi service for which she gets paid. Then in a further development, she is asked by a new acquaintance, Angy (Ana Ivanova), to drive her and her mother when the older woman needs regular hospital treatment. Finally, such descriptions invite us to think that this will lead to changes in Chela’s life and attitudes.


The film’s slow pace and its refusal to build an overt drama out of this material put The Heiresses into a category close to minimalist cinema. But, while Kelly Reichardt’s sublime Wendy and Lucy (2008) illustrated perfectly how such an approach can deliver strong emotional resonances, Martinessi achieves nothing comparable. He himself has said that he wanted to comment on Paraguayan society, but his film doesn’t seem to delve deep in that respect despite its class elements. As to why a man should choose a lesbian couple to be the main characters in his first feature there is no obvious answer and The Heiresses is so understated that for a while you almost wonder if you are right in seeing Chela and Chiquita as lovers rather than close friends (indeed the film is so unassertive in this respect that our censor has only rated it 12A).


The film’s male creator has certain given us a female world here (male actors are only glimpsed) and The Heiresses does have a character all its own. But, if one can respond strongly to the acting (Brun’s expressive performance is suitably interior, while María Martins relishes the role of a gossipy matron whose cynicism brings some welcome comedy into play), the overall impression is of a work that never quite finds the path that would enable Martinessi to comment forcefully on both social and personal issues.


Spanish title: Las herederas.




Cast: Ana Brun, Ana Ivanova, Margarita Irún, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins, Alicia Guerra, Raul Chamorro, Regina Duarte, Ines Guerrico.


Dir Marcelo Martinessi, Pro Marcelo Martinessi and Sebastián Peña Escobar, Screenplay Marcelo Martinessi, Ph Luis Armando Arteaga, Art Dir Carlo Spatuzza, Ed Fernando Epstein, Costumes Tania Simbrón.


La Babosa Cine/Pandora Filmproduktions/Mutante Cine/La Fabrica Nocturna Productions-Thunderbird Releasing.
98 mins. Paraguay/Germany/Uruguay/Brazil/Norway/France. 2018. Rel: 10 August 2018. Cert. 12A.