Las Herederas from Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi is one of the most anticipated films in competition at this year’s Berlinale and tells the tale of a wealthy Paraguayan woman, Chela, in the midst of an existential and financial crisis - although turns out to be uneventful. More interestingly, the protagonist's relationships with female characters are complicated by her latent and unexpressed homosexuality, yet this powerful subtext is suffocated by the film's uncertain tone and clumsy handling of class. While the protagonist's status struggle may speak to some viewers, its lack of effort to engage those unfamiliar with the outdated culture of household maids in Latin America is detrimental to creating empathy for the protagonist. Setting itself up as a story about friendship before drifting into a string of banal incidents supposedly triggered by the temporary imprisonment of a maid, the narrative meanders with a view to distract from the film school aesthetic and sentiment.
Las Herederas attempts to adhere to traditional screenwriting structure but gets lost in a myriad of b-plots and half-uttered statements that lead nowhere nor leave room for thought. The acting suffers due to the fact that the dialogue is overly expositional in almost every scene, giving the actors little to cling on to but vague suggestions in place of real emotions. Marcelo Martinessi's strongest directorial moment is a simple and even clichéd one: the protagonist stares at herself in the mirror while readying herself for a sexual encounter of the nature that has always been denied to her. If the film were able to embrace this honesty and humility rather than cloak itself in the pseudo-intellectual tasteful realism that cushions bourgeois arthouse crowds from social issues, Chela's struggle would actually have an impact.
~ George Bartlett / Theo Macdonald