In the history of South American cinema, Paraguay has traditionally been merely a footnote. However, the 21st century has seen an upturn in fortunes. Whilst this has been a slow and gradual process, today it’s not that uncommon to stumble across the country’s output at a film festival. Remarkable given it was only in 2015 that they submitted an entry to the Academy Awards for the first time. Whilst much of the best work has come courtesy of Paz Encina. Whose film Gold Seekers was their second submission, it is Marcelo Martinessi’s new film The Heiresses which has really raised the bar.
Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún) have been together for thirty years. They’re descendants of wealthy families but have latterly fallen on hard times. This leads to the domineering Chiquita having to go to jail on fraud charges. Chela focuses on freeing her partner whilst selling their possessions to survive. She begins providing a taxi service to affluent old ladies, and as her life slowly starts to change a chance encounter with a younger woman (Ana Ivanova) allows her to break free of her shackled and offers the prospect of a new and exciting future.
The Heiresses is probably the greatest film ever to come out of Paraguay. It’s certainly likely to get the most notice. What is so impressive about Martinessi’s drama is the way he has the confidence to intricately and slowly build up the layers of the story. It’s beautiful and delicate cinema. In Ana Brun he’s found someone that doesn’t merely equal his skill but surpasses it. She’s remarkable, delivering one of the best performances of the year. Staggering to think that it’s her first film. She plays the role of Chela with such nuance, understanding and understatement.
The Heiresses is out in cinemas from 10 August.