A small but potent gem of self-discovery, The Heiresses trades in desperation: emotional, sexual, financial, existential. The Paraguyan film, set in that country’s capital Asunción, focuses on the tender middle-aged relationship between Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún), two women of privilege who’ve been together for more than 30 years.
Discretion informs their hermetic, Sapphic union, while a quiet panic defines their increasing poverty. Bargain hunters visit the house, eye the heirlooms and ask for prices. Furniture slowly dwindles with every new appointment. The lovers pretend to be unfazed, but they’re already in too much of a daze to know which direction to go.
THE HEIRESSES ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Marcelo Martinessi
Written by: Marcelo Martinessi
Starring: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Anna Ivanova
Running time: 95 min.
Chela, a pampered wallflower with a dilettante’s penchant for expressive painting, is the weaker one: more fragile, more demanding, more high maintenance. Chiquita is the outgoing if profligate pragmatist, even after she gets nailed for debts to a predatory bank. So the unflustered Chiquita ends up serving time, which puts Chela on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Responsible even from prison, Chiquita has arranged for a maid to take care of the childlike Chela. They can’t afford it, of course, but Chela needs everything—her meds, her meals, her routine—to be just so.
Chiquita is fine in prison. Maybe even happier. She blossoms in a place where hustling carries more freight than lineage. Chela, though, stumbles into an uncertain future. Constitutionally too anxious to drive her rickety Mercedes, she ends up out of necessity stumbling into a side gig providing taxi service. The well-to-do women in her regular card games start to ask her for rides, and even offer money which she indignantly refuses. But eventually, reluctantly, she accepts.
One of the regulars is Angy (Anna Ivanova), a bit younger and very pretty, fully in control of her own life. She’s also alluring, and Chela, much to her own surprise, starts to have novel, even carnal feelings. She develops a genuine appetite for life. Her chronic, lifelong uncertainties transform into possibilities.
Make no mistake: The Heiresses never cues up a pop-song caterpillar-to-butterfly montage or pats itself on the back for showing how this ugly duckling becomes a swan. Because the transformation isn’t nearly that simple. Or that guaranteed. This movie isn’t about the birth of new beginnings, it’s about the death of old ways. It’s hard to have sympathy for an ossified pair of rich lovers who squandered their birthrights. The Heiresses traffics in just desserts, and points to a better world without the idle rich. But it’s also generous enough to recognize victims of circumstances. And hopeful enough to show that it’s never too late to adapt.