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Review of 'The Eternal Memory': A Touching Legacy of Love and Memory

By Sandra M Ríos U
Twitter: @sandritamrios

"Where do the words that didn't stay go?"

Maite Alberdi has done it again! Chilean filmmaker has premiered her new film "The Eternal Memory" this year, after moving and captivating audiences worldwide with her adorable "The Mole Agent" (on Netflix), which was nominated for Best Documentary in 2021.

"The Eternal Memory" is a profoundly moving, tender, and touching portrait of old age, illness, identity, and above all, love between partners.

In general terms, cinema has portrayed Alzheimer's and dementia very well, some of the cruelest diseases one can face. Experiencing that involuntary sense of alienation from oneself, of ceasing to be, is simply terrifying. Films like "Poetry" by Lee Chan-Dong, "Away from Her" by Sarah Polley, "Still Alice" by Richard Glatzer, "Amour" by Michael Haneke, or more recently "Vortex" by Gaspar Noé come to mind when thinking about memory. They have shown the dignity and strength with which humans can face these conditions, revealing the most beautiful aspects in critical situations. And while these are examples from fiction, their stories have not been far from reality.

What sets "The Eternal Memory" apart are definitely its protagonists. Not because they are well-known figures in Chile, but because of how they chose to confront the disease. Paulina included Augusto in her work and activities outside the home, even allowing him to participate. In fact, this was the catalyst for Alberdi to make this film. After accepting, a long process of documenting them for four interrupted years began.

Just as we witness this unique everyday life outside the couple with notable novelty, we also see the fragility they both face in the progressive deterioration of Augusto's memory. We see the gaps he experiences, the nightly crises, and the effort – as sweet as it is painful – to delay the day when he can no longer remember the name of his beloved wife. Inside, we witness a range of fears, anxieties, frustrations, affections, tenderness, care, exhausting specific routines, and an inexhaustible patience – many demonstrations of authentic and true love that, furthermore, never lost its sense of humor.

While Alberdi filmed parts of this movie with a small crew (herself, the photographer, and sound engineer), due to Covid-19 isolation, Paulina also documented parts of it. This observational style of filmmaking, which the director has dedicated herself to, offers another perspective in this film, enriching the portrait. It allows us to access the couple's intimacy and shows us the perspective of a woman, both as a wife and caregiver. Since Jorge Caballero's "Patient" (2016), I haven't seen such a beautiful and realistic tribute to the figure of the caregiver. The documentary also breaks down the prejudice of hiding the disease and reflects on the benefits of integrating patients and caregivers into public, recreational, or work activities, not excluding them from society as much as possible.

The film has a third perspective. A single character embodies the struggle to preserve memory, both individual and collective. Augusto fights not to lose the memories in his mind, and in this exercise, it's revealing how the impactful and traumatic moments of the Chilean dictatorship refuse to disappear. As a journalist, he was the general editor of an underground news program (Teleanálisis), revealing the hidden reality of the dictatorship. In this battle where he questions who he is and who wakes up by his side, there are moments of overwhelming lucidity, where he speaks of the need to rebuild the emotional memory of an entire nation, to allow oneself to process grief. "Without memory, there is no identity," he says. With the images captured during that time, "The Eternal Memory" delves into its profound layers, thus completing the story. A three-part film, as Alberdi describes it.

The collective memory connected to the individual, the indelible traces that persist even in the mind of someone with Alzheimer's, give it a character of humanity, more chilling and revealing than any sum of statistical data or clinical or historical studies. The connection between identity and memory that Alberdi establishes here is profound.

Returning to the essence of "The Eternal Memory," all that's written is insufficient to describe what moves you from the first minute of this deeply sensitive film, where Alberdi once again plays with a narrative style that approaches fiction. This story, which can also be seen as a farewell of a couple, is so touching that it brings tears.

The indelible mark left by the documentary, the fibers it touches, are also owed to the magnificent musical composition by Miguel Miranda and José Miguel Tobar. "Now it seems that I..." (and I cry).

Augusto Góngora passed away on May 19, 2023.

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