Ana Brun as Chela
Ana Ivanova as Angry
Margarita Irún as Chiquita
Nilda Gonzalez as Pati
María Martins as Pituca
Alicia Guerra as Carmela
A woman is drawn out of her protective bubble when the money runs out in this excellent debut from Marcelo Martinessi
Now in her late 50s, Chela (Ana Brun) was born into the kind of money that has cushioned her from the world. But since her inherited wealth has trickled away, she has relied on her life-partner Chiquita (Margarita Irun) to protect her from the indignities of encroaching poverty. Chela retreats into her boudoir, where she dabs reproachfully on a glum beige watercolour, aloof from the strangers who rifle through the heirlooms that are being sold off to manage debts.
But then debt catches up with them, and Chiquita is sent to prison for fraud. Now Chela is adrift, forced to engage with the world from which she would prefer to retreat. For a favour, she drives her elderly neighbour Pituca (María Martins) to a card game. Pituca wears her malice ostentatiously, like a mink stole, but her ill-naturedness is a small price to pay. Chela takes a step towards independence when she starts to work as a driver for Pituca’s clique of wealthy ladies of a certain age. It’s through driving that Chela meets Angy (Ana Ivanova), an uninhibited younger woman who confides in Chela of the useless men she has discarded. Fascinated, Chela is seduced out of herself.
A superb first feature from Marcelo Martinessi, this entirely female-driven story is full of gentle wit and playful observations on the crumbling upper echelons of Paraguayan society – there are parallels with early Lucrecia Martel, and with Sebastián Lelio’s exploration of older female sexuality, Gloria. The acting throughout is strong, and Brun is terrific. It’s a performance of tragicomic genius that plays out in arched eyebrows and stabbing side-eye swipes at other women.
Paraguay hasn’t had a particularly active or high-profile film industry up until now, but this accomplished feature could be an indication that things are about to change. I will certainly be watching with interest to see what Martinessi does next.
Review by Wendy Ide, Observer