I have been reading Mary Ann Doane's book Femme Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory and Psychoanalysis, and many scenes in The Heiresses resonate with key ideas explored in her book, so I thought I'd write this review as an attempt to summarize those ideas, particularly Woman's (yes with a capital 'W') function as cinematic image, and the masquerade she deploys to arrive at this so-called function.

In Chapter One of Femme Fatales Doane desribes the woman "not only as the image of desire but as the desirous image—one which the devoted cinéphile can cherish and embrace. To 'have' the cinema is, in some sense, to 'have' the woman." One of the opening scenes of The Heiresses shows Akos, Szilvia's husband, mesmerized by a series of moving images: sporting events, Nazi ceremonies and finally close-ups of Szilvia's face. Akos takes pride in being an enthusiast of the cinema, and in capturing Szivilia's image tries to possess her too. However by luring him with her image, it would seem that Szilvia is the one who owns Akos. As a spoiled heiress who has everything, Szilvia is not afraid to show off her wealth and uses it to taunt her subjects. During a tour of their new house, Szilvia asks Akos: "Do you like it? I've bought it for you. Darling." To which Akos replies: "Thank you. Father." By addressing Szilvia's father and not her, Akos bypasses his masculine insecurities and unconsciously acknowledges that Szilvia is the one in charge here, the one who wields the phallus.

There is also a brief sequence in which Szilvia disguises as a man and tries to convince Irène to be her surrogate mother. Both Freud and Irrigaray have pointed out that the woman seems to be more bisexual than the man. Szilvia's intimacy with Irène and her eventual success in "buying" her echoes this theory and affirms her performance of masculinity. Szilvia's suggested bisexuality also posits her as an epitome of the woman who oscillates between lack and excess in psychoanylysis, yet she cannot be defined and abstracted into the Woman with a capital "W" because she is simultaneously hypersexual and sterile. Montrelay claims that in order to be symbolized it is necessary that the woman put herself at stake, for the female body "is an object in excess which must be 'lost'", and the maternal body offers exactly that desired loss. But the impossibility of becoming pregnant for Szilvia means that she has nothing to lose, nothing to deter her from emotional outbursts. She follows Akos and Irène persistently, cries whilst smiling, and appears to be masturbating naked lying by Irène's door. While the speculation that hysteria is a malaise of the womb is absurd, in the case of The Heiresses it offers an uncanny explanation to Szilvia's profound sadness. Szilvia's syptoms also parallels that of Justine in Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Justine's melancholia is temporarily relieved as she bathes nude in the chilling starlight, then the camera shifts to a close-up of the star that shares the same name with Justine's malady, foreshadowing the total destruction Melancholia would later bring. The same collision of eros and thanatos is present in The Heiresses. The confirmation of Irène's pregnancy coincides cruelly with the death of Szilvia's father. He is buried in an apple orchard where afterwards Szilvia and Akos make love in a room full of apples, the very symbol of sin and desire.

The film progresses as Szilvia and Irène's images continue to morph into each other. When Irène first meets Akos, Szilvia asks Akos: "Does she resemble me?" and receives a negative answer. Indeed, physically the two women have almost nothing in common. However when Szilvia and Irène next attend a dance party together they already start to look alike, with the same hairstyle and dresses of a similar cut, and immediately after the party Irène elopes with Akos and is impregnated. The night that Irène moves in with Szilvia and Akos, the two women again dress in the same fashion, prompting Akos to comment: "Don't they look alike? They are both lovely." When Irène and Akos try to get away together only to be pursued by Szilvia, the camera captures the two women in the same frame, clad in the same white fur coat and hat, and the surrogacy becomes all the more unsettling. Irène has now replaced Szilvia, and she is no longer the foreboding phallic mother.

Irène passes as Szilvia on several occasions, in public she acts as Akos' wife, and she gives the Nazi officers Szilvia's papers to conceal her Jewish identity, though she ultimately fails. Yet Irène's masquerade is fundamentally differently from Szilvia's. If Szilvia challenges notions of feminine sexuality with her unpredictable actions, Irène reinforces patriarchy by specifying a norm of femininity. According to Joan Riviere, masquerade, in flaunting femininity, counters the possession of masculinity and makes femininity dependent upon masculinity for its very definition. A charming and enigmatic woman, Iréne is already conceived as the other in psychoanalysis, on top of that her Jewish origin also situates her as the racial other. It should also be noted here that Doane has theorized that the woman is fascinating precisely because she is also potentially threatening. As a Nazi captain, Akos knowingly keeps his Jew mistress perhaps for the very reason that she could jeopardize his political career as fascism rises. The arrival of Irène, accompanied by the passing of Szilvia's father, allows Akos to finally resume his paternal authority in the family, be the father he has always wanted to be.

Since sound is a critical component of The Heiresses as well, it would be helpful to bring into the picture Doane's idea that the female body is constituted as noise, "an undifferentiated presence which always threatens to disrupt representation." Whenever Akos showcases his films, the moving images are always accompanied by white noise generated by the projector. Woman as cinematic image is not only accounted for by her hypervisibility, but her speech and actions too. As Szilvia herself declares: "I think love is life, and life is a struggle." Szilvia is contantly trying to interfere with Akos and Irène's relationship. There is a brilliant scene where Irène and Akos are watching a film of Szilvia and Irène playing in the snow field (which Akos took), and Szilvia enters the room, her shadow momentarily overlapping with the projection. She then unexpectedly throws the reel into the fireplace, terminating the film and its noise abruptly. If Woman truly is the cinematic image par excellence, Szilvia would be incinerating herself and Irène.

Another example of distruptive noise occurs when Irène is giving birth, as Szilvia impatients awaits in another room, dressed in the same white gown, she repreatedly mumbles in pain: "I can't bear it," echoing what Irène said earlier when faced with the impending reality that she must give away her child. Szilvia's cries gradually fuses with the newborn's, signifying a return to pre-Oedipal sexuality which escapes the grasps of the symbolic. And last but not least, the leitmotif of the song "Don't Ever Say" plays an important emotive role throughout the film.

Don't ever say,

That you're past everything

That there's nothing new

and sudden in Life

Don't ever say it's over

Or that you no longer care

After everything that happened

Much may be left to come

Don't ever say it's over

Say only that so far

It has been worth it

And if it has been worth it

A point might come

Where you must say what you have to say

Don't ever say it's over

Say only that so far

It has been worth it

And if it has been worth it

A point might come

Where you must say what you have to say

In the final moments of the film, the empathetic melody resounds as Irène is being deported with fellow jews, and the lens moves back and forth between her and Akos looking at her inside a passing car, the camera slowly closes in on her face and freezes, her ambiguous expression forever etched onto our retinae. Through losing herself in the war, Irène allows the viewer to become lost in her too, grounding her as the mysterious and fascinating Jewish woman who characterises the fantasy of the other, the lasting image that marks the endnote of a cinematic climax.