I can’t recall seeing a film from Paraguay ever before, and I hope the excellent debut Heiresses helps open the filmic floodgates for a new south American wave, in the way we’ve seen from Chile, Argentina and Brazil over the last 15 years.
It’s about a female couple, Chela and Chiquita, women of a certain age who live together in a big, somewhat fading mansion in the wealthy area of Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion – always a bit of tricky quiz question, that one…
Despite being from old money, we can tell they’ve got into some kind of financial trouble and Chiqui, the more outgoing of the pair, is under threat of jail for tax evasion and fraud, so reluctantly and as quietly as possible, they’re selling off the family silver, literally, and anything else.
However, circumstances can’t be avoided, and when the introverted, depressed Chela finds herself living alone, with a new, cheaper maid, she stumbles into a part time job as a taxi driver for the elderly, wealthy women of the neighbourhood, ferrying them to bridge and lunch parties.
Taking the wheel of the car, gives Chela a new freedom. Played by actress Ana Brun, who won an award at Berlin for her fine performance earlier this year, she begins to discover new feelings, particularly for a younger woman, the striking and sensual Angy, played by Ana Ivanova…
Interestingly, Chiqui also finds a new vigour in the chaotic women’s jail where she has become quite the queen pin. But, as Chela drives her ladies around, we hear in their conversations and gossip how, in a sense, even the wealthiest women in this city seem to have been imprisoned by society and expectation all their lives.
Directed by a Marcello Martinessi who’s practically the only male presence in the whole thing, it’s heavy on crumbling atmosphere, superbly performed – incredibly, marking screen debuts for its two leads – and manages to be a satire on class and wealth as well as sensitive character study of a woman finding a late-life blossoming.