The Eternal Memory

After seizing control of Chile in 1973 in a military coup, Pinochet took control of its media.  Augusto Góngora was one of the journalists who bravely spoke out against his regime with the underground news organization Teleanálisis, later writing ‘Chile: The Forbidden Memory’ in 1989, determined that his countrymen remember the history that was suppressed during those years.  Thirty years later, his lover of over twenty years and wife of three, Paulina Urrutia, fights to keep his own memories alive after Alzheimer’s strikes in “The Eternal Memory.”

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director Maite Alberdi, whose "The Mole Agent" was a 2021 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, must have been one busy filmmaker as she was also following the subjects for her latest between 2018 and 2022.  With the fiftieth anniversary of Pinochet’s coup arriving this year, there have been a spate of films on the subject, but although “The Eternal Memory” connects a nation’s history with one man’s, the film is most notable for the deep love story between the man whose memory is fading and the woman determined he remember her.

A woman with a heart shaped face framed in brunette curls streaked with gray leans over a white haired man in striped pajamas.  ‘I’m here to help you remember who Augusto Góngora was,’ she tells him.  He laughs and replies ‘I’m Augusto Góngora, who are you?’ After she explains that they’ve known each other for twenty years, that he has two children and two siblings and is married to her, Alberdi cuts to an equally vibrant if more serious and younger man reporting for Teleanálisis on the increasingly worse conditions of Chile’s poor, then to the younger longer-haired brunette at work as an actress (she was appointed president of the National Council of Culture and the Arts in 2006 and we see her at work in the present directing the Camilo Henriquez Theater, her husband by her side).

Alberdi uses this technique frequently throughout her Sundance 2023 Grand Jury Prize documentary winner, Pauli asking Góngora, as she calls him, if he likes their house before we see video footage from 1999 of it being built.  Pauli teases Góngora as he showers before shaving him in the bathroom we just saw only partially finished years ago.  ‘You wanna do stuff?’ he asks flirtatiously.  There is joy here, still.

We see it again as Pauli runs a dance number on a tiered theater platform through rehearsal, Góngora keeping time as he hop steps through the dancers, not in sync with their choreography yet somehow of a piece with it.  We’re reminded of his frailty and dependence later as Pauli patiently guides him down the stairs, one step at a time.  He’ll be there in the audience later, laughing at the pointed lines of her political play.

But as time progresses and the pandemic hits, we will begin to see Góngora go downhill, panicking in the middle of the night because friends are not there or crying in frustration over his beloved books even as Pauli assures him they are all around him.  Death becomes a more frequent subject, Pauli asking if he remembers if Raul Ruiz is dead or alive.  He remembers the filmmaker has died, then goes on a reverie about the director ‘resurrecting the dead.’  Alberdi includes a clip of the two together in a café and another of him acting for Ruiz, a performance Pauli teasingly notes was awful (he agrees).  The man who vehemently denied the idea of wanting to end his life suddenly is no longer so sure the second time we see Pauli ask the question and she herself is heartbroken as she tells him he didn’t remember her for most of the day.  He promises that will never happen again, yet we’ve already seen it has in the film’s opening moments.

Alberdi and her “Mole Agent” cinematographer Pablo Valdés gives us incredibly intimate access to the couple, one exquisitely framed scene finding Pauli slightly annoyed trying to work as her husband dances in the corner before she gives in to his infectious enjoyment, dancing with him from her chair.  Some more intimate scenes are presented unfocused, as if from behind frosted glass.  The bond between this couple is so strong, we wonder just what must have been edited out, Pauli’s patience almost supernatural, but this is a woman who married her man two years after his diagnosis.  “The Eternal Memory” is an incredibly moving love story between two people, each with historical significance in their country.  (It is not noted here, but Góngora died three months before the film was released in the U.S.)

Robin's Review: B+

Journalist Augusto Gongora and actress Paulina Urrutia have been a couple for 23 years. But, when he is diagnosed in the early stages of dementia, their life will change as he struggles to remember and she helps him to not forget in “The Eternal Memory.”

It is funny how years change one’s perception. 30 or 40 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease was not on my radar as a thing that would effect me and my life. Now, in my 70s, I find the subject both fascinating and a distinct possibility so I see it through completely different eyes.

The main part of this study in coping with dementia centers on Augusto, slowly slipping away into the darkness of Alzheimer’s. Paulina, affectionately called Pauli by her husband, has dedicated herself to helping him keep his memory. What is most striking is the amount of love and dedication Pauli has for him in her daunting, and hopeless, task.
Director Maite Alberdi provides an excellent view into the day-to-day struggle, both with the patient and the caregiver. It also puts front and center the love and affection between Augusto and Pauli in a very positive way, despite the debilitating disease.

The other part of “The Eternal Memory” fills us in on the couple’s lives. He was a journalist who came to prominence in Chile reporting on the 1973 military coup and its aftermath. He never let that overthrow go without his reporting on it and its atrocities it spawned.

Paulina, we learn, was an actress and activist, appointed as Chile’s Minister of Culture and the Arts from 2006 and 2010. Since Augusto’s diagnosis, she dedicated her life to seeing him through his affliction. It is a tough and frustrating life but one the she fills with love and caring for Augusto.

One watches a story like “The Eternal Memory” with a “there, for the grace of the gods, go I” viewpoint, but with the knowledge it could be “there go I.” It is a thoughtful and somewhat sobering look into the sad end to a fruitful life.

MTV Documentary Films released "The Eternal Memory" in select theaters on 8/11/23.  It is being featured in Cinefest Latino Boston – click here for information.