UK Release Date: 10th August 2018
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Marcelo Martinessi
Writer: Marcelo Martinessi
Starring: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova, Nilda Gonzalez, Maria Martins, Alicia Guerra
Synopsis: A woman struggling with the fact her partner is in prison finds new purpose by working as a driver for a group of wealthy older women.
In Taxi Driver, the protagonist’s car is a symbol of his isolation. Travis Bickle’s separation from society is only exacerbated by the fact he spends his nights driving people around, without ever interacting with them. Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi‘s drama The Heiresses could not be more different. As with Martin Scorsese‘s classic, it focuses on a lone protagonist who finds work as a driver, but this time the car is a symbol of the freedom to escape her domestic life and learn more about the world around her.
That isolation is created by the fact Chela (Ana Brun) is, as the title suggests, an heiress who has lived in constant wealth. The same is true of her partner of 30 years, Chiquita (Margarita Irún), but their money is running out and they are gradually selling off their more valuable possessions. Chiquita is ultimately imprisoned for fraud, which leaves Chela out on her own. In an attempt to earn some extra cash, Chela finds work ferrying old women around when elderly neighbour Pituca (Maria Martins) says she needs someone to take her to her weekly card game. She soon meets a much younger woman (Ana Ivanova) and this reinvigorates her life.
It’s Brun’s central performance that elevates The Heiresses above ground, despite its contemplative indie roots. The movie is defiantly subdued and opaque, sparse in terms of dialogue and deliberately chilly in the way it creates its world. Everything outside of her opulent home is alien to Chela and she can’t even speak to her maid (Nilda Gonzalez), let alone interact with anyone who doesn’t exist within her own bubble. Martinessi brings us in to the world from this perspective and so it’s shocking when she visits the far more outgoing Chiquita in prison and it’s a throbbing hive of noise, people and activity. When Chela retreats back to her car after this interaction, it is the clear beginning of her move away from her partner.
The notion of something new enters the movie in the guise of Ana Ivanova’s Angy. She gradually opens Chela’s mind and also presents a semi-sexual allure for her and, although Chela never acts on these impulses, Brun’s performance makes her attraction to Angy very clear through movement, body language and the way they talk to each other. Chela’s movement out of privilege and into a life that’s more rounded and fulfilling is nicely played, but it’s teased out so slowly by Martinessi that it’s often tough to get invested in the storytelling.
And that’s the main issue with The Heiresses. It’s consistently intriguing and very well acted, but it also moves at a snail’s pace and feels as if it could’ve done with spelling out its character moments more explicitly. The subtlety goes a long way as the story gets moving, but it feels as if there’s a missing pay-off where there should have been a final twist of the emotional knife.
Pop or Poop?
Queer cinema focusing on women is incredibly rare and any hint of romantic desire involving older gay women is something to be treasured on film. Marcelo Martinessi certainly investigates and interrogates the subtlety of that drama in The Heiresses, while also providing an intriguing meditation on class and isolation. Ana Brun’s performance is the epicentre of that subtlety and she lifts the film up high on her shoulders, but it just lacks that final punch and loses itself a little in its own sense of quiet contemplation.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Heiresses will be released in UK cinemas nationwide on August 10.