The Heiresses (‘Las Herederas’)

DRAMA; 1hr 38min (Spanish with subtitles)

STARRING: Ana Brun, Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova

Women’s business: Brun (left) and Ivanova

After 30-some years together, Paraguayan grandes dames Chela and Chiquita (Brun and Irun) have fallen on such hard times that they’re reduced to selling off the furniture, artworks and silverware from Chela’s family home, a contingency Chela bitterly resents. Nothing in her culture of entitlement has prepared her for this—let alone for Chiqui’s imprisonment for fraud. Although the habitually morose and pampered Chela is now stony broke, coping solo is so out of the question that Chiqui hires her a maid (Nilda Gonzalez).


Chela’s newfound plight of aloneness is outlined by writer-director Marcelo Martinessi with an oblique economy that neither lingers nor overstates, its mood subdued yet more matter-of-fact than down-in-the-mouth. The ladies are fatalists who roll with life’s lower blows: toughie Chiqui refuses to bow down behind bars, and after doing a crabby neighbour a favour, unlicensed driver Chela finds herself running an unofficial taxi service in her elderly Mercedes-Benz—a task she handles with resigned aplomb.


Martinessi has said that his unstudied feature debut is about confinement. Debt is necessarily imprisoning (Chiqui is literally jailed for it, after all) and until she begins to trust herself, and by association, to question her limitations, Chela is a prisoner of her sad lassitude. Then she meets the younger and fearless Angy (Ivanova)…


All this cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga observes at a slight remove, framing the characters either mostly from behind or slightly to the side, with their backgrounds calculatedly out of focus. The effect is to highlight an isolation and a subservience from which winged-bird Chela increasingly desires to break free. Not until her final beats is it clear if she can prevail.