The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

Prisons in Paraguay

Martinessi’s debut Las Herederas shows a lesbian couple against the background of Paraguay and its dark history of dictatorship (1954 – 1989). Chela (Ana Brun, a pseudonym because of her lesbian role) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) have been together for more than thirty years and are both from rich families in Asunción, Paraguay. For his film, Martinessi wanted women that could move and interact naturally. Ana Brun, who is actually a lawyer in daily life, and Ana Ivanova had little acting experience, and were open to something new. They appear to be natural talents.

Chela and Chiquita have been leading an easy life, each of them more or less fixed within their own patterns. This all comes to an end when they get into financial trouble. We see other wealthy women trotting through their house, clicking their polished nails against the crystal glasses and assessing the furniture that is now all for sale.

Chiquita goes to jail and settles in placidly, chatting and laughing in the yard full of equally loud fellow-prisoners. The shy and passive Chela visits her and is clearly uncomfortable in this world, formerly unknown to her.

Their old neighbour, Pituca, asks Chela to be her driver when she goes to her weekly card game. Chela, who used to be at home, binge-watching TV-series while Chiquita and their housekeeper were taking care of her, accepts and gradually gets more confident. After a while, she meets other women who also need a driver. One of them is the sensual Angy (Ana Ivanova) who starts flirting with Chela. This acts as a wake-up call for Chela. Her dull eyes get a sparkle and she starts paying attention to her outfits and her make-up. Angy tells her that sunglasses make her look more glamorous and here she is: with new sunglasses and all.

However, the work as a driver does lower Chela’s social status. We see her waiting in hallways with half-open doors to rooms with old ladies with chic dresses and jingling bracelets, playing games in their stifling houses. Chela is not with them at their tables as in the past. The muffled gossiping and chitchatting reinforce the whole sense of her not belonging to their world anymore. The conversations in the film are based on those of the film director’s (Marcelo Martinessi) mother and aunts when he was growing up. He did not always live in Paraguay, which has widened his view. He can take some distance from it all, although his country still feels like a prison to him. The whole film seems to breathe this suffocating atmosphere. Before 1989, it was hardly possible to make films in Paraguay and even today film directors usually have to lean on financial support from abroad.

Class distinctions, the background of a still tangible dictatorship, sex, secrets behind closed doors: this is all interwoven and expressed in subtle looks and dialogues. When, at the end of the film, Chiquita is about to be released, having served most of her prison term, Chela finds herself at a crossroads in her life. Will she escape from her own personal prison?

film director: Marcelo Martinessi
language: Spanish, Guarani
runtime: 98 minutes
cast: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova, Alicia Guerra, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins.
production: La BaBosa Cine
genre: drama
distributor: Contactfilm
Bauer prize & Fipresci Prize, Berlinale 2018
Jury award in Competition World Cinema Amsterdam
36 awards and 35 nominations
Ana Brun: best actress, Film Festival Zilveren Beer
Prix Fipresci & Alfred Bauer Prize, Berlinale 2018