Adriana’s Pact ★★★★ review

by Jamie Brown

This austere Chilean documentary, a decidedly personal directing debut from Lissette Orozco, tells a cautionary tale about family. During Orozco’s apparently ordinary upbringing, Aunt Adriana was a glamourous, exciting role model. Each time her favourite aunt paid a visit from Australia, it was like the family rock star had swung into town, and Orozco and the whole clan would lay on an airport reception fit for a celeb.

Adriana’s Pact, dir: Lissette Orozco; Festival strand: Debate; Chile 2017, 96 mins.

A decade ago, everything changed when, during a visit, Adriana Rivas was picked up by the cops on a charge of working for DINA – General Pinochet’s answer to the Gestapo – during the dictatorship. Denying the charge, Rivas managed to skip back to Australia while on parole. Confused, the young Orozco began to ask questions, which we first see being met with an unreassuringly silent response from the family.

A recent film graduate, Orozco decided to pursue the truth with her aunt directly via their Skype conversations and, with Rivas’ agreement, to record their exchanges for a documentary project. It becomes clear fairly quickly that Aunt Adriana is a wrong ‘un; her accounts are insincere, lacking in consistency, and become increasingly angry and incoherent the closer to home Orozco hits. Rivas’ story is one of a young thrill-seeker whose looks could get her behind the scenes, and who joined DINA for the money and networking. She flat out denies even being aware of the torture and murder of rebels at DINA, never mind partaking in any of it.

Rivas’ denials become more excruciating as she makes a number of dumb gaffes; recommending sources to Orozco that could clear her name, but who then proceed to drop her right in it. Rivas all but concedes the game by giving an interview to Australian TV in which she talks up the benefits of torture and sympathises with the Nazis, leading to a section of Australia’s Chilean expat community camping outside her house loudly demanding her extradition.

Adriana’s Pact is much less a mystery of ‘was-she-or-wasn’t-she?’ than ‘will-she-or-won’t-she-own-up?’. Orozco’s decision to make herself as much the subject of the documentary as her Aunt is a courageous one; the director cuts an increasingly isolated figure as, encounter-by-encounter, she is exposed as the only one not certain of the truth. The family know, but refuse to say it out loud; independent sources fill in the details, but Orozco needs to hear it from the aunt that she adores. Wouldn’t we all? The confrontation this leads to is a not-to-be-missed finale.

It’s the relatability of this pain – the pain of learning that you can’t trust your family – that makes Adriana’s Pact a compelling film. If you consider how devastating this realisation would be in a culture such as Chile’s, founded on strong Catholic family values, it becomes an especially powerful angle. Orozco’s unsophisticated, cheap-tech footage doesn’t really matter here – in fact it probably serves to bring director and audience closer together, adding warmth.

Chilean cinema continues to turn out interesting and diverse reflections on the Pinochet era, and Adriana’s Pact is a worthy addition. It’s also a reminder that, in cinema, if you have a story to tell and access to a camera – any camera – you’re pretty much good to go.

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