Triple winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Marcelo Martinessi’s The Heiresses is a quietly powerful fable of hidden desires, long-lost escapades and a really deceptive look into how gender roles are devised in traditional films about older people. Suddenly brought into treading change, the film revolves around the Chela’s (Ana Brun) life when her dominant gay-lover is sent to prison for financial fraud.
Chela and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are 50-something gay lovers living in the wealthy neighborhood of a Paraguayan society. Chela’s inherited house and her car formulate her sense of belonging which seems to have been lost in their years living together. While we open at even wealthier ladies rummaging the remains of the house for good second-hand antiques that they are selling because of their deteriorating financial state, we soon get to know that Chiquita will have to go to prison for a financial fraud that she had committed.
As the house becomes empty when the supposedly dominant Chiquita leaves the house, we see the shyer, gentler yet moody Chela having moments of complete numbness. There is a definite inclination towards her being described as the counter of an alpha-male. However, her complete blankness is soon tackled head-on by the new maid who, as per Chela’s instructions does everything that has been told to her. She even fixes the morning plate of breakfast and coffee in the exact way that Chiquita described her.
While Chela pays alternate day visits to Chiquita who is now dominating her cellmates, she, out of pure coincidence gets to drive the wealthy women of her neighborhood to their occasional card games. These women offer her money in return of her favor and Chela soon starts developing a kind of strange likeness for driving people around. While at it, she meets the young, fascinating and sensual Angy (Ana Ivanova) who is often pitted against the heartbreaks inflicted by the men in her life. There’s a definite underlining theme of misogyny having an upper hand there. However, Martinessi quite interestingly does a complete spin towards the end as her character’s subtle arc forms a sad, distorted reality altogether.
As Chela starts driving Angy and her mother by taking the high lane, she starts developing an interesting, flirtatious relationship with Angy. This forms the core of Martinessi’s beautiful and understated first film which, for better or worse, has more politeness in its layered characters than angst in instant getaways. There’s a certain likeness that is subdued into each character and the players play it out with exact implications. While Chiquita dominates over her prison mates – getting massages, spa therapy and even heightens a co-mate to insanity, Chela quietly looks over Angy trying to rekindle her wish to desire things.
As the house of the gay-lovers slowly gets empty, Chela’s own car, that the superior Chiquita never lets her own becomes her only reality. The director keeps all the angst and disappointments neatly packed and only shows dissociation with a broken set of crockery and just a single shot of shivering existence. The use of light in Martinessi’s film is interesting for the lack of word-play and devises the characters as shadows of their co-benefactors. Ana Brun and Margarita Irun who are both legendary stage actors debut with roles of a lifetime. Ana Brun is especially exceptional. The way she slowly slips around each place she visits makes for a wonderful character that doesn’t necessarily need extra girth. One of my favorite scenes has her looking at a younger picture of herself, quietly masturbating to her new desires.
The themes explored in Marcelo Martinessi’s The Heiresses are not obvious. They come with a powerful wind and washes everything that you thought it could have been. For a debut, this is definitely top-tier work from Martinessi.