The Heiresses review: Ana Brun is a revelation in Martinessi’s quiet powerhouse of a film.
The Heiresses review by Abi Silverthorne.
It is the rarest of things: the contemporary, original story that somehow feels archaic – entrenched in fairytale. Even rarer: a film that feels so classical and so new at once.
Retired Paraguayan aristocrat Chela feels old and new. Old, because her body and social skills are weary and her three decade long relationship with fellow Heiress, and lover, Chiquita, even wearier. New, because when her (if by-now reluctant) partner in all things Chiquita must face their debts with a stint of prison time under fraud, she is left stranded – baffled and blinking – like a newborn in the dawn of an even more lonesome life.
She lives in a mansion that is old but stripped anew; when strangers must come into the ancient hall and choose which china and chairs they will buy to help the Heiresses out of their debt, Chela can only hide in the shadows, watching without words.
Chela’s life eventually begins to take on a new velocity when she picks up a hobby – driving around the neighbourhood’s to-do women in her old Mercedes in order to stave of the vacuous duo of boredom and debt. In these busy, hand-held scenes something is enchantingly captured of broiling taxi rides on the shudder of small-town roads, and blistering side characters firmly come alive. Meanwhile Chela seems only to revert further into her shell – simply watching, and listening, but at least steering herself in some sort of direction instead of festering in her dark-timbered boudoir.
As her taxi service takes off, her practically-a-marriage with Chiquita is only dwindling. The now physical separation unravels what was already an emotionally adrift affair to excruciating, desperate threads. During prison visits, Chiquita barely bothers to sit by Chela long enough to chat, wandering off to be with other inmates while Chela can only stare her stare of pained yearning (yearning for, we suspect, anyone, anyone at all, to look back at her with real care).
That look of care Chela is searching for finally seems to arrive, in the form of seductive social-mixer Angy, when the younger woman hires Chela to drive her to her mother’s regular hospital appointments. Angy might just be everything Chela has needed – the energy, the frivolity, the revitalising sexual appeal, and most seductively- the actual sense of interest in Chela as a person. Interest, or serpentine curiosity.
Chela is the mouse in her grip, scurrying to find hip sunglasses and smoking on the bonnet in an unforgettable arc of transformation that is so, so terribly endearing even as it is terribly sad. As Chela gives up on connecting with Chiquita and turns her head to Angy, this rather unassuming, slow-burn story begins to run inexorably to some tender or awful end.
Dual tensions, of the unpleasant and the intimate kind, are built in strong performances and subtle, witty dialogue as Chela’s relationships between her woman of the past and her woman of the future draw her two ways: we wait with bated breath to see what will become of the love triangle, or, more importantly, what and who will become of the individual woman within it.
It is a testament to the casting and the quality of the film that something with such an objectively well-worn theme – a established relationship tested by a new flame – feels so revolutionary.
Although it is imbued with gothic, fairytale imagery that suggests even more that this is a classical story (the temptress and the stranger at the gate in Angy, the old castle under siege, matriarchs wasting away in the dark and the cobwebs, a young princess trapped in an older woman’s skin in Chela), the film is most interesting because – no matter who you are rooting for – it is still a powerful love story for an unheard generation.
While Blue is the Warmest Colour and Princess Cyd have done wonders for young women-loving-women content, The Heiresses makes a fanfare-less but accomplished and resolute stand for the existence of older LGBTQ women in cinema. Here they are observed, with affection and intimacy and real humanist generosity. There are women of middle-age and beyond who have adored from afar, and loved in unspoken companionship. This film wants us to see them, to see Chela as much as she wants to be seen – her desires, her anxieties, and her silence and coyness that she must unlearn. Effectively, the curse to be lifted in the strange, modern fairytale that is The Heiresses is marginalisation, of characters like this in cinema and of Chela from within her own life.
Chela and her story would not have been such a wonderful sight to behold if it weren’t for the work of Ana Brun, who rightfully won the Silver Bear prize for best actress when the film premiered at the Berlin film festival prior to its release. She mesmerises in an unmissable performance, most likely one of the greatest of the year. The emotional uproar she translates with just a look is louder and more breathtaking that one some actors could do with a full on scream. She plays an older lady in such a way that it’s difficult not to see a teenager on screen: luminescent with hope and first infatuation.
At her side alternately are Ana Ivanova as Angy and Margarita Irun as Chiquita – who both give equally brilliant performances as the devil and the angel on Chela’s shoulders. Irun’s irascible, tender but sometimes frustrating calm is the perfect opposite force to the whirlwind that is Ivanova.
As the story runs for a long time without much hurry, these three fascinating characters, and performances, are all given ample time to breathe, and patient audiences will be rewarded. Even if the plight of the heroine seems so objectively unsympathetic – someone who can afford to lose wealth is losing wealth, and someone already partnered up is falling in love with the idea of someone else – the trials and complexities of growing old and growing out of one’s life that are brought to light feel so intelligent, tenderly told and true, that this film is nothing short of magical.
Tremendously wise and deeply moving, The Heiresses dresses up a new addition to cinematic love stories in a wonderfully old-fashioned style. Irregardless of whether she is finding someone new, her old someone, or herself, Ana Brun’s Chela is a wonder to behold. See the film for her, and all those like her.
The Heiresses review by Abi Silverthorne, August 2018.
The Heiresses is released in UK cinemas on Friday August 10th, 2018.