Hannah Woodhead

The Heiresses – first look review

A sensitive portrait of a hesitant woman attempting to rediscover her lust for life makes for an assured feature debut from Marcelo Martinessi.

Amid the sound and fury of a thousand and one ambitious cinematic epics, it’s refreshing to find a film as serene as The Heiresses. Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi makes his feature debut with a quiet story, focusing on an ageing artist who finds her life changing completely when her partner of many years is sent to prison for incurring debts. Chela’s a homebody by nature, happy to rely on the more gregarious Chiquita, until she’s locked away and Chela is reluctantly pushed into the outside world.

In order to earn a little money and take her mind off Chiquita’s incarceration, she begins a taxi service, shepherding her older sister’s wealthy friends around following their weekly card games. The car she drives is a relic, gifted to her by her father, and although she’s had to sell off her home piece by piece in order to fund her partner’s legal counsel, she’s reluctant to part with her beloved automobile. It grants her a new sense of freedom as she makes her tentative first steps outside of the house, hinting at the terrifying notion that anything is still possible for her.

It makes a considerable argument for slow cinema, meandering alongside Chela as she contemplates her situation, and in focusing on an older female character in a same-sex relationship, Martinessi shines a light on a community rarely seen on our screens. It’s a quiet character study performed with nuance by Ana Brun, who seems at once distant and vulnerable. The glassy indifference of the wealthy contrasts from an overcrowded noisy prison, where friendships are currency, bought and sold for the price of a cigarette.

Martinessi shows great empathy and promise as a filmmaker, trusting his audience to infer much from a retrained script, and capturing the minutiae of his subject’s life in beautiful detail, from how Chela likes her tea to be served to the melancholy scenes where she watches wealthy women pick over the artefacts she’s selling in her home. There’s a powerful sense, as you watch the life Chela knows unravel, that she might go on to better things, emboldened by a chance friendship, and keen to leave the past behind.

Published 19 Feb 2018

Tags: Marcelo Martinessi

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