Looking at the list of The Heiresses‘ recent award wins, it should be clear to anybody reading that this is a special film. Selected to compete for the Golden Bear accolade at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, it went on to win all four of its nominations, including the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Ana Braun and after watching, I can see why.
Braun and Margarita Irun play Chela and Chiquita, two heiresses descent from wealthy families in their native Paraguay. However, times are hard and money is tight, so tight that Chiquita is charged with fraud. Sent to spend a spell in prison, Chela is left to sell off the rest of their belongings, whilst hiding out in their large, empty house, away from friends for fear of embarassment. Having spent the last few years just the two of them, Chela now has to learn to fend for herself, without Chiquita’s help.
Lonely and afraid of the future, Chela starts to branch out, eventually befriending a group of older women, agreeing to be their taxi driver for small sums of cash. Between her shifts driving, Chela visits Chiquita in jail, who seems to be thriving behind bars, ‘prison mother’ leading a group of her fellow inmates. Seeing this, Chela starts to push herself a little further, taking on more responsibilities, driving a little further, staying out a little later. Through her new venture she meets Angy (Ana Ivanova), a younger woman troubled in love, happy to share her cigarettes and stories. As the pair get closer, Chela starts to wonder just what else is out there that she’s been missing out on all these years.
From the outset, both Braun and Irun are subtly superb. Quiet and thoughtful in their movements and dialogue, they make their characters’ 30 year relationship look so real. Braun’s ability to portray heartbreak and loneliness, all through discreet facial expressions, is like no other – the lost, vacant look in her eyes, searching for Chiquita’s reassuring presence. The same goes for Irun; though she doesn’t change physically during her stay inside, her attitude changes and it’s hard to watch. She’s grown a thicker skin, there’s a sharper tone to her voice. She’s the pack leader and she likes it. This isn’t the Chiquita Chela fell in love with, but she’s changed, too.
Director Marcelo Martinessi has a beautiful visual style, keeping the camera tight on his actors’ faces and movements. The footage of Chela’s time spent driving is some of the best in the film; the tight, enclosed space keeps our focus on her, her palpable nervousness, her awkward small talk with her passengers. When Chela meets Angy, things change, the camera moving to sit in the backseat, watching the pair converse, Chela on an equal plain with another character for the first time since Chiquita left. Martinessi’s eye for natural lighting is also stunning, particularly a scene nearing the end that’s shot outside at night, using streetlamps and the lights of a takeaway van to provide a dreamlike glow to Chela’s internal turning point.
The Heiresses touches on themes of love and loss, personal growth and change, all within 95 minutes. Beautifully shot and directed, Martinessi should be proud of himself and his cast as they’ve achieved something that’s as equally moving as it is visually immersive. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes onto be a future award nominee (and winner). Don’t miss this one.