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The Eternal Memory
La memoria infinita

Directed by Maite Alberdi
Produced by Pablo Larraín, Juan de Dios Larraín, Maite Alberdi, Rocío Jadue, and Andrea Undurraga
Written by Maite Alberdi
With: Augusto Góngora, and Paulina Urrutia
Cinematography: Pablo Valdés and David Bravo
Editing: Carolina Syraquian
Music: Miguel Miranda and José Miguel Tobar
Runtime: 85 min
Release Date: 07 November 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

This restrained and overly respectful chronicle of decline by director Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent) follows fifty-five-year-old Chilean actress, director, academic, and politician Paulina Urrutia, whose husband Augusto Góngora was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease eight years earlier. The film chronicles the couple who have been together for twenty-five years, presumably marrying after the diagnosis and agreeing to allow Alberdi to start making a film about them around that time. The irony of watching Góngora slowly lose his memory is baked into the documentary if you know anything about his career. One of Chili's leading television broadcasters, investigative reporters, and witnesses to the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Góngora was among the authors of Chile: The Forbidden Memory (1989), a three-volume work that examined the human rights abuses committed by the Pinochet government. After the transition to democracy in 1990, Góngora was one who served as a living memory for his nation, helping restore Chili's cultural legacy of books, films, art, and other vital forms of expression that the authoritarian government had suppressed.

Alberdi includes one nod to Chile: The Forbidden Memory and features clips of the younger Góngora from his TV show, which often used clandestine techniques to cover stories about crimes committed by the Pinochet regime. She makes it clear that Góngora was an important political voice, but she leaves out most of the specifics. We learn even less about Urrutia, except that she's a devoted partner deeply in love with her husband. Her impressive career is barely touched on. Perhaps for Chilean audiences, these two figures are so well known that to get too deep into their histories would be redundant. But it's still a bit baffling that Alberdi seems to go out of her way to present this prominent couple as just ordinary folks. Despite the slow and gradual progression of Góngora's dementia and the amount of time the filmmaker presumably spent with the couple, the movie is only 85 minutes long. Too little of that brief time is spent exploring the memories Góngora is losing. The film is a loving portrait of a marriage and of individuals trying to hold on to identity and relationship, and we witness scenes that will be familiar to many who've cared for or loved someone with Alzheimer's. Still, it's difficult for The Eternal Memory not to feel like a missed opportunity to say something more distinctive and profound about the place of these two people in their country's troubled history.

Twitter Capsule:
Maite Alberdi's documentary about how Alzheimer’s disease slowly takes over the marriage of Paulina Urrutia and Augusto Góngora devotes too little screentime to the vital lives of these key figures in Chilean history.