September 11 is a historical date for most of us, but for many others, it has a different meaning entirely.
Apart from the 9/11 attacks, it also marked the day in 1973 in which Chilean president Salvador Allende was deposed and Augusto Pinochet began a brutal dictatorial rule over the country. As with any regime, Pinochet could not act on his own. Many Chileans helped him carry out his plans. One of them was Manuel Contreras, head of the notorious DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), Pinochet’s secret police. Contreras had a personal secretary named Adriana Rivas, who also happens to be the favorite aunt of documentary filmmaker Lisette Orozco. Orozco had just entered film school when her aunt was arrested on accusations of kidnapping, torture, and murder. So what else to do but make a film?
Adriana’s Pact begins with an introduction to the highly matriarchal family, through the filmmaker’s voice over, home movies and photographs. There is specific attention paid to the ambitious, outgoing and independent aunt Adriana, nicknamed Chany. Chany ‘works for the air force’ and lives in Australia, but comes back to visit Chile every now and then. That is until the day she is arrested. From this point on, Orozco starts to untangle a complicated history filled with lies, half-truths, and silences. On one hand, Orozco’s investigation relies on archival material of the Pinochet regime, newspaper articles, along with witness and expert testimonies. The rest of the film utilizes interviews and testimony by Adriana Rivas herself. Through juxtaposition and reflection, Orozco tries to find out what happened and whether her aunt is culpable or not.
In an early interview, Adriana recounts her days during the Pinochet regime. Adriana shines as she glorifies this period of her youth, recounting how she moved in the highest circles of Chilean society. These were the best days of her life, is something she repeats in an interview she later gave to Australian television. She also repeats the assertion that torture is necessary to get information and since it also happens in many countries, what is the problem? Intercut with this interview is another conversation with Orozco’s mother and Rivas’ older sister, who defend Adriana by stressing the family’s values they were taught. Besides, they reason, Adriana never did her any wrong. In that time in Chile it was kill or be killed.
These arguments are not foreign to those familiar with testimonies from the elite involved with brutal regimes. I recently watched interview footage showing Lina Heydrich, wife of one of the Nazi masterminds of the Holocaust, Reinhard Heydrich, which echo many of Adriana’s sentiments. There is also the question of collective guilt. There are patterns to be seen in the examples of Nazi Germany and Pinochet’s Chile. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen wrote a controversial book about the collective German contribution to the extermination of Jews, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. In Germany, what Goldhagen calls “eliminationist antisemitism” played a major part. Like a cancer that must be removed, it’s the kind of antisemitism that regards complete elimination as the only solution. It is not very different from the way Pinochet and his associates regarded their political opponents and the solutions they sought, albeit on a very different scale and methodology. And given the turnout and enthusiasm at a Pinochet celebration the thirty year old Orozco attends, there is still some sympathy for such ideas.
Orozco’s family never discussed the period, which yields a further layer of complexity: the pact of silence the title of the film refers to. Such a pact relates to the individual and collective agreement to remain quiet about the past, as it is too gruesome to discuss and admit what happened. Following the Franco regime, Spain had its pact of forgetting. After the Pinochet era, Chile created its own pact of silence.
In the meantime, Adriana takes the opportunity to jump bail in Chile and returns to Australia where she films herself. Adriana keeps denying she has seen any torture or has even said anything wrong but Orozco slowly finds more accounts to the contrary. Given her position and the fact it was commonly known torture was used on prisoners, she must have known and been a part of the crimes. Testimony builds both in Chile and in Australia, where Chilean expats petition for the extradition of Adriana. Chileans publicly condemn her and even gather to protest at her home.
Orozco stays in touch with her aunt through skype conversations. Slowly she is pulled into Adriana’s defense when her aunt asks her to get in touch with former colleagues who should be able to attest to her innocence. Holding a mobile phone close to her laptop, Orozco allows Adriana to converse with her former colleague, the accused Gladys Calderon who claims not to remember anything. The more Adriana tries to convince her niece she is innocent, eventually relying on their blood ties, the more culpable she seems. Why flee from justice if you are convinced of your innocence, wonders Orozco?
Adriana’s Pact, Orozco’s search for answers, is a reflexive exploration of the construction of truth, that is, Adriana’s truth. This truth, it is explained, functions as a mental protection against other people’s truths. Eventually it succeeds in illuminating Adriana’s culpability.