THE HEIRESSES

★★★

AN ESCAPE FROM THE GILDED CAGE OF PRIVILEGE

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
14th April 2019

Middle-aged lesbian couple Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún), both descended from wealthy families in Asunción, Paraguay, have been together for over 30 years. Recently, their financial situation has worsened and they begin selling off their silverware, expensive crystal glasses, and other inherited possessions. When their debts lead to Chiquita being sent to a women’s prison on fraud charges, Chela is forced to adjust to the sudden lifestyle change.

Chiquita had been the dominant personality in their relationship (running the household, instructing the maid and taking care of the money) and flourishes in prison as a "big shot". Chela, an introverted and subdued painter, finds herself in an increasingly empty house without much to do. When an elderly neighbor, Pituca (Maria Martins), asks her for a ride in her pristine green Mercedes 240d one day (kidnappings involving taxis are apparently common in Asunción), and insists on paying her for it, Chela finds a new vocation.

'THE HEIRESSES' TRAILER

Driving for the first time in years, she begins to provide a local taxi service to a group of elderly wealthy ladies as they do old lady things, like going to the hairdressers and meeting for card games.

As Chela settles into her new life, she encounters the much younger and flirtier Angy (Ana Ivanova) when she drives her mother to medical appointments in nearby Itauguá. Chela begins to forge a fresh and electric new connection with the casually sensual Angy, who operates in a world of sexual possibility - in that world, none of the rigid class distinctions matter.

The debut film of writer/director Marcelo Martinessi, ‘The Heiresses’ is essentially about how social hierarchy can be its own form of confinement. Chiquita is sent to debtor’s prison when she loses her wealth, but that loss allows Chela to finally begin to break out of her shell and engage with the world, embarking on her own personal, intimate revolution. Brun, a theatre veteran who had never acted onscreen before (like almost the entire all-female cast), turns in a guarded yet tremulous performance. As a woman once on top but now having to embarrassingly take money from her friends as she hits rock bottom, Brun lets us see how her character motivates herself through such a troubling time without looking weak.

The debut film of writer/director Marcelo Martinessi, ‘The Heiresses’ is essentially about how social hierarchy can be its own form of confinement.

Aided by cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga's use of widescreen to emphasise the limitations of Chela’s world and shadows to articulate the faded glories of Chela and Chiquita’s diminished lifestyle, Martinessi’s ‘The Heiresses’ is a delicate exploration of sexuality, ageing, class, and privilege.

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