The Eternal Memory (2023)

The Eternal Memory (2023)

A gentle but emotionally devastating account of love persisting through Alzheimer's

7.9

Movie

Chile
Spanish
Documentary
2023
FEMALE DIRECTOR, MAITE ALBERDI
Augusto Góngora, Paulina Urrutia
85 min

TLDR

There really shouldn't be any need for Oscar-bait psychological dramas that make a spectacle out of memory loss, when there are plenty of real-life stories like this that ultimately have so much more to offer.

What it's about

Chilean actress Paulina Urrutia documents her life with her husband, famed journalist Augusto Góngora, as his Alzheimer's disease continues to worsen.

The take

Documentaries about people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's, or other neurodegenerative diseases will always occupy a bit of an uneasy space—how much consent can they really provide in their condition? At what point does presenting their struggles become exploitative? Maite Alberdi's The Eternal Memory doesn't entirely assuage these concerns, but it certainly knows better than to define its characters by the things that they lack. In fact, much of this film's romance comes from the image of Pauli and Augusto (who sadly passed away earlier this year) simply sharing space together, present in one another's routines even as the gap between their shared understanding grows. Their life is one populated by art and literature, which seems to act as both a cage and a liberating escape throughout their relationship.

In the times when Augusto's struggle with basic cognition is too severe, Alberdi doesn't look away, and the resulting footage is truly painful to watch. But it should be emphasized that Alberdi displays the same attentiveness to the couple's ordinary moments of quiet contemplation or married-life silliness without allowing them to be reduced into tragedy in retrospect. The film never tries to define their bond as either purely doomed or hopeful. For them, the mere possibility of love continuing to persist even in brief flashes is enough.

What stands out

But while the film gets more than enough emotion out of its central relationship, Alberdi's decision to frequently cut back to Augusto's career as a journalist—who, most notably, helped the world keep an eye on Augusto Pinochet's violent military takeover of Chile—creates an extra layer of memory to consider. Augusto's experiences are not just his own but are shared with an entire generation of Chileans who have made it their mission to remember their dead and to never forget their democratic ideals. And there is sadness that Augusto at the end of his life may not have been able to recall what he accomplished, but his dedication to his work has ensured that his people's struggle for a free Chile will remain eternal.

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