Oriana (1985)

Venezuelan Gothic

Maria (Daniela Silverio), a young French woman, inherits a hacienda in Venezuela from her Aunt Oriana (Doris Wells). Maria and her husband travel to the hacienda with the idea of selling it and returning to France. When they arrive, the remote hacienda is in a terrible state of repair. Apparently, Oriana wouldn’t allow the house to be cleaned, and she insisted that she even wanted the dust to remain untouched until her niece arrived to claim her inheritance.

The well-dressed French couple enters the hacienda, and they enter another world. As Maria tries to complete an inventory prior to the sale, memories overwhelm her. She spent one summer with her aunt in her peculiar household in Venezuela, and the film goes back and forth in time sifting through Maria’s memories. From the beginning of the film, there’s clearly a mystery afoot, and Maria’s memories gradually reveal the secret of the hacienda for the viewer.

Oriana unfolds with a strong strain of Gothicism. The lush Venezuelan jungle surrounds the hacienda, but inside the house all life and joy seems extinguished. There’s a surly uppity servant, rooms not to be entered, precious objects that are not to be touched, and an ugly secret to be uncovered.

Unfortunately, the film is rather dull, and the characters too uninteresting to arouse little more than mild curiosity about Oriana’s story. The film jumps back and forth in time with the adult Maria’s return to the hacienda, and the adolescent Maria visiting the hacienda for the first time. There seems to be little gained from showing the adult Maria wandering around a filthy hacienda pouring over various objects. Each object sparks a trip down memory lane, and then we get a little bit more of the story of Oriana. This sort of scene works once, but then after that it’s redundant. In spite of the film’s exotic location, Oriana failed to arouse enough interest and suspense to keep me committed to the plot.

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