Ana Brun, left, and Ana Ivanova in 'The Heiresses'
Ana Brun, left, and Ana Ivanova in 'The Heiresses'

The Heiresses is a tickling, near-perfect tragicomedy from Paraguay. The nuances are so fine you could slip them between adjacent atoms. A cruder film might just slice the atom, or atoms, to produce an explosion. Ana Brun plays Chela, gentle, sixtysomething and permanently bewildered. Her fraud-charged partner Chiquita (Margarita Irún) has been hauled off to jail. The hard-up couple were already selling their heirlooms. Now Chela lives in their flat alone, startled by freedom, adrift to socialise. There is still a car. So she acquires cash and companionship by chauffeuring women chums.

Part of the hilarity of Marcelo Martinessi’s human comedy is its gender lopsidedness. There is scarcely a man in sight: just a vast landscape of ladies who lunch (and play cards and party), with age bestowing the quirks and comedy. Chela becomes more magnetic as a main character the less she does. She drifts, shy, quizzical and dowdily adorned, like a Henry James character moving through the shadowed enigmas of an unconsummated life. She is “coming out”; but taking a long time to do it.

Sometimes Martinessi sticks in a prison scene, so we can see the butch-female, Amazonian clamour in the women’s jail yard, the exact opposite of everything happening to our Chela. Then it’s back to quietude and conundrum, lovingly and exquisitely delineated.


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