Berlin Patrick Gamble

Berlin 2017: Adriana’s Pact review


★★★★☆

“Every family has their secrets,” claims Chilean director Lissette Orozco whilst introducing her debut film Adriana’s Pact – but what happens when these secrets get out? A deeply personal documentary about guilt and culpability, we see what happens when the personal and the political become inextricably entwined. Do the wounds of the past heal? And how deeply are we implicated in historic crimes? These are questions Chilean cinema has been attempting to answer for years and, although Orozco is part of the country’s next generation of filmmakers, her tender age doesn’t mean she’s immune to the horrors of Pinochet’s legacy.

Orozco’s debut is based on the real life case of Adriana Rivas, a part-time nanny and cleaner living in Australia who was detained during a visit to Chile in 2006 and accused of working for the DINA, the secret police of General Pinochet. By itself, Adriana’s case would have been an interesting, if unremarkable jumping-off point to trawl through the horrifying interrogation techniques used by the DINA. But Adriana’s Pact has an ace up its sleeve. Adriana is the director’s aunt and, Instead of tackling the subject matter from a safe remove, it does so through the eyes of Orozco as she’s forced to confront her country’s troubled past through the long buried conflicts within her own family.

In her attempts to discover who her Adriana really is, Orozco combines Skype conversations with her aunt (who fervently denies these accusations) with expert analysis of the DINA and access to some of the people who worked within it. On the whole she manages to balance the roles of niece and filmmaker, even if her inexperience of the latter means these interviewees are filmed without much imagination. However, they merely provide the framework for what is a painfully personal work about the impact of history when brought home to both guilty and innocent parties. The conversations between Orozco and her aunt provide the film with its most arresting moments. Although both their faces are visible, as the film progresses it only highlights the growing distance between them.

The conversations are, for the most part, unnervingly calm and decorous, but as the film’s progresses Adriana begins telling Orozco who she should to talk to and what she should ask them and for a moment it becomes unclear who is directing the documentary, Orozco or her aunt. This same brazenness is also evidenced in a television interview Orozco finds of Adriana pleading her innocence. After explaining how she was never involved in any of the interrogations or knew anything of the disappearances, there’s a chilling moment where she defends the use of torture as necessary “I mean…[it was] the same as what the Nazis used, do you understand? It was necessary. There isn’t an injection to make you tell the truth…it doesn’t exist.” The closest Orozco gets to fining a truth serum is the testimony of Jorgelino Vergara, a former servant at Santiago’s infamous Simon Bolivar Barracks.

Aware that Orozco is Adriana’s niece, he’s initially a little reluctant to talk before confirming; “If you asked me if I saw her beat a detainee, then… I would say yes.” He then continues to explain how he remembers seeing Adriana, on more than one occasion, beat prisoners until they were on the brink of death. When Orozco recounts this encounter to her aunt the conversation quickly turns sour and there’s a noticeable psychotic-break in Adriana that delivers a disturbing kick. A film that places Chile’s devastating history alongside agonising personal truths, Adriana’s Pact is a powerful meditation on the legacy of Pinochet’s dictatorship, and the bravery required to seek any kind of truth about it.

The Berlin Film Festival takes place between 9-19 February. Follow our coverage here.

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble