Monday, January 14, 2019

From Paraguay, THE HEIRESSES: Marcelo Martinessi's first full-length film is a rich and moving character/situation study

It is unusual enough to view a movie from Paraguay, but when that movie is also a first full-length film from an unknown director that turns out to be not only thoroughly involving but first-class in every respect, this is grounds for rejoicing. So it is with THE HEIRESSES (Las herederas), written and directed by Marcelo Martinessi.

Señor Martinessi (shown at right) has managed to combine themes involving class, change, entitlement, old money vs new, relationships, power, control and prison (of various sorts), all the while providing a study of character and situation that is really quite close to perfection. It has been a long while since I've seen a first film this well done in all areas -- on both sides of the camera.

The tale told is of two women -- Chela and Chiquita -- each from a wealthy (formerly, at least) family who have been lovers/partners for decades but have come upon hard times, due to which they are now forced to sell many of their most precious belongings.

As essayed by Margarita Irun (shown above, who plays Chiquita) and especially Ana Brun (below, left, as Chela), who has the more important role, these women resonate hugely. Ms Brun, in what is apparently her debut role, could hardly be better, as she slowly and quietly wraps us in her at first stand-offish but finally almost warm and completely understandable near embrace.

We get to know the two women, as well as their circle of friends and neighbors, especially once Chiquita has been "removed" to some extent from Chela's immediate life. How and why provides one of the film's many interesting plot devices, leading to some very quietly surprising changes along the way.

We get a look a Paraguay's prison system (women's variety, above), as well as a number of glimpses at the elderly, card-playing old-money wealthy (below) and their gossipy, judgmental habits,

and in particular one younger woman, Angy (very well-played by Ana Ivanova, below,  right), to whom Chela has clearly taken a shine. What happens between these two provides a good deal of the small but irrevocable changes that occur throughout the film, many of which involve those that Chela must make in order to grow and survive.

The manner in which Martinessi has laid out this growth and change is calibrated in such a way -- never too obvious but with enough information provided to keep up interested and on our toes -- that his movie proves consistently compelling and finally moving and even, yes, uplifting. Yet in a very minor key.

What we first perceive as a kind of love is eventually understood to be control. How Chela learns to circumvent some of this makes for one of the great, low-key pleasures of this just-beginning movie-going year.

From Distrib Films US and running 97 minutes, The Heiresses opens in its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, January 16, in New York City at Film Forum. Elsewhere? Well, it's scheduled to play Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal in early March, but I can't find any other currently scheduled playdates. But it is difficult to imagine that a foreign film this good won't eventually hit major cities around the USA. Keep watch.

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