The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

Set in Paraguay – presumably in the capital, Asuncion, though we’re never actually told – Marcelo Martinessi’s stately film comes to the Edinburgh International Film Festival trailing accolades, not least a Best Actress award from the Berlin Film Festival for its lead, Ana Brun, appearing in her first ever role. She plays Chela, a reclusive elderly painter from a once wealthy family who has lived her life in the same rambling house she was born in and which she shares with her long-term partner, Chiquita (Margarita Irun, a 50-year veteran of Paraguayan theatre). Their daily life is a round of medication (for Chela, condition unspecified), idle conversation and an ongoing project to raise cash by selling the contents of the house. As the film opens we see Chela hiding as a sniffy couple inspect an antique dining table and a 40-piece crystal drinks set.

Then two things happen: first, Chiquita is convicted of fraud over a bank debt and sentenced to a short spell in prison. Then, when she’s away, Chela befriends Angy, a fortysomething woman on the fringes of the gang of wealthy, card-playing widows Chela starts ferrying around the city in her vintage Mercedes. She charges the same as a taxi but the women feel safer with her. Although some of the nuance is lost on non-South American audiences, it’s clear Martinessi is here making a point about class. Chela falls for Angy, who talks freely about her own sexual awakening aged 14, and a shy romance ensues which, predictably, never leads anywhere. The same could be said of the rest of the film, which is its charm: slow-moving, poised, encouragingly humane and entirely female-led, it’s almost Bergman-esque in its portrayal of the big little things that affect and direct every long-term relationship.

The Heiresses is released on September 7


On the face of it, Zoe Beloff’s not-quite-feature-length documentary essay should be an absolute head-scratcher: an Iranian exile (Afshin Hashemi) and a black American (Eric Berryman) wander around New York pretending to be, respectively, playwright Bertolt Brecht and philosopher Walter Benjamin, while spouting lines from those writers’ works and discussing elements of their life stories. But an opening section on the Staten Island ferry in which Hashemi and Berryman introduce and contextualise their characters, some nimble allusions to Laurel and Hardy and a healthy dose of humour in the interactions between the pair and the people they meet, make this a pleasingly quirky and surprisingly focussed piece of film-making, and a welcome addition to the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s experimental Black Box strand.

The strong thematic underpinning helps. This being a film about exile – both Brecht and Benjamin fled the Nazis – it’s also a film about migration and migrants and, in Beloff’s hands, a fierce anti-Trump broadside. As our odd couple wander the streets to stand in front of an austere migrant detention centre, perform a Brecht play in the street, and hymn the “productive power” of migrants and the new ideas they bring, she inter-cuts the action with footage from American Nazi rallies of the 1930s. In another section, shot in black and white, we see Joseph McCarthy’s inquisitor-in-chief Roy Cohn cast as a ventriloquist: he’s dandering on his knee the “dummy” he represented in the mid-1980s – a certain Donald J Trump. Powerful stuff and all the better for its intellectual weight and its oblique angle of attack.

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond Of Matches

Quebec-based director Simon Lavoie’s atmospheric black and white film sits somewhere between the low-key horror flicks which populate the smarter end of the EIFF’s late-night strands, and arthouse period pieces like Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse or Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. But rather than tread a line between those two forms, Lavoie starts in the mood of the second and then gradually shifts to the first. It’s at that point that the relevance of the title starts to become clear: until then audiences might have been wondering whether something had been lost in translation from the original French. It hasn’t.

Incest, family tragedies, shocking secrets, a suicide and two children who have been raised in rural seclusion by their domineering father and told that he made them from clay are the other elements driving the story, adapted from Gaetan Soucy’s 1998 novel. The backdrop is a dark, rambling, run-down farmhouse somewhere in Quebec, and we’re in the period between the wars, though nearer the first than the second. The children are both known as Son (by their father) and Brother (by each other), though when one sibling is raped by the other and falls pregnant it becomes as clear to her as it already is to the audience that he is a she. Told partly in flashback and peppered with striking dream sequences – in one, the siblings douse an owl in petrol, light it and set it flying through the night sky – Lavoie’s film is insistently eerie. If there’s a Canadian equivalent of America’s Southern Gothic, this is it.