The Heiresses

Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun), scions of wealthy families, have lived together, quite comfortably, for 30 years. But, they have fallen on hard times and are forced to sell off their prized possessions, causing Chiqua to be jailed for fraud. The long-sheltered Chela must fend for herself, and, to her surprise, likes it in “The Heiresses.”

Laura's Review: B+

Chela (Ana Brun) shrinks from attending Carmela's (Alicia Guerra) 50th birthday party and stands huddled behind the door as her long term partner Chiquita (Margarita Irun) guides strangers through their ongoing estate sale. She's hiding from the financial situation which is forcing them to sell family heirlooms and which has escalated into a charge of bank fraud against Chiqui. But when Chiqui begins a jail term, Chela is drawn back out into society by the strangest thing, a request from older neighbor Pituca (María Martins), afraid of kidnapping by taxi, to drive her to a regular card game in writer/director Marcelo Martinessi's Silver Bear winner "The Heiresses." Paraguay's submission for the 2019 Oscar Foreign Language Film is a rarity, a film almost totally devoid of men. It explores the lives of Paraguayan bourgeoisie in Asunción via a lesbian couple whose inherited wealth has made them incapable of life without a maid even as they sell possessions. When Chiqui brings Pati (Nilda Gonzalez) into their home, Chela complains about the woman's need of deodorant, then her failure to position her coffee cup just so on her afternoon tray. But Pati will become valued, her emotional support during Chiqui's absence opening Chela's eyes. What is even more surprising is how Chela blossoms when, for the first time in her life, she begins to earn her own money as a driver and how, in his feature debut, Martinessi's direction of the actress secured her the Best Actress prize in Berlin. Once she learns of her friends' hardship, the younger Carmela brings them an envelope stuffed with cash, noting how Chela helped everyone who contributed. Chela will not accept it. Driving the ancient Mercedes she inherited from her dad for the first time in years, Chela returns from taking Chiqui to jail in a daze. She's still in that daze sitting before her easel when she's interrupted by Pati telling her a neighbor has requested a ride. Soon, she's slowly rolling out of her driveway listening to Pituca's incessant chatter, telling the older woman Chiqui is away on holiday. Chela waits while the woman plays cards in another richly appointed ancestral home, then drives her back. When Pituca presses payment upon her, Chela demurs, but Pituca insists. In no time, not only is Chela driving Pituca's friends, her neighbor telling them what they owe, but Angy (Ana Ivanova), the daughter of one of those friends, is inquiring about the cost of a much longer trip. 'I don't drive on motorways,' Chela responds. But after peeling off the 'for sale' sign on her car's back window, we see her tentatively merging into traffic. Angy's trips for her mother's medical therapy gives the women time to bond, Chela hearing all about the younger woman's prodigious sex life. Word of mouth about the driver grows. As Chela blossoms, her look changes, the character taking more care with her appearance, her clothing becoming more youthful. Martinessi's film which began shrouded in shadows, interiors like old museums, suddenly brightens, a dining room table sold opening the room up to light. Even the constant gossip changes, Chela learning of murderous wives from Chiqui in a prison yard, then experiencing what it is like to be of the service industry, Angy's younger friends discussing how another wouldn't 'lower herself' as a driver-for-hire right in front of the older woman. Then Angy, sensing something in Chela, does something unexpected, driving the woman back into hiding. It is only temporary, but when Chela emerges ready for new adventure, she is confronted by her past. Brun is mesmerizing in her film debut, the actress gradually shedding the privileged cocoon which keeps her fearful, gaining confidence in her focussed, cautious driving. We can feel her spirits rising. Irun provides quite the contrast, the more outward character, comfortable even within an open prison society. Ivanova is the boldest, her performance earthy and physical. Gonzalez is touching as the lone example of a lower economic class, empathetic and compassionate. Paraguay isn't known for a thriving film industry, but Marcelo Martinessi may be the one to shine a light upon it. "The Heiresses" is what international cinema is all about, letting us experience an unknown place from a particular point of view. You'll be glad you accepted a ride with Chela. Grade:

Robin's Review: B+

This is a character study of Chela, a woman who has relied on her life partner Chiquita for nearly everything, including driving her around. Now, with Chiqua out of the picture, she must do things for herself – including driving. This newly re-found skill leads to a neighbor asking for a ride, which leads to others asking (and paying) Chela for a lift. Suddenly, she finds herself running an impromptu taxi service and opens a new path in her life. It is a pleasure to watch Chela blossom as she is forced to rely on herself – and her hard-working maid, Pati (Nilda Gonzalez) – to do all the things that Chiqua used to take care of. “The Heiresses” is a story of the self-liberation of a woman who, like Blanche DuBois, “relied on the kindness” of others. Ana Arun gives a wonderful arc to her character as we watch her grow and change in her amazing debut.