The Eternal Memory, 2022, Chile directed by Maite Alberdi
By: Claus Mueller
This feature received the Sundance 2023 Documentary World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. It is an outstanding portrayal of the 25 year long relationship of a couple which survived and documented the dictatorship of Pinochet and its aftermath. Augusto Gongora was a television journalist and author who produced underground news casts of the Pinochet regime. His longtime companion of 20 years before they married was the actress Pailona Urrutia who directed the ministry of culture during the presidency of the socialist Michelle Bachelet from 2006 - 2010. The public political and private intimate lives of Gongara and Urrutia are guided by maintaining and reporting the memories of their experience and the closely connected history of Chile. This frame of reference is embraced by Alberditi who also wrote the film but refrained from providing an explanatory narration.
Much of the public attraction of The Eternal Memory stems from the biographical story of a prominent couple. Augusto Gongara is diagnosed with Alzheimer after eight years of their joint life while the couple continues to revive and maintain their past and current memories. But the Alzheimer ailment is mentioned only once towards the end of the documentary. What impresses is the bonding relationship of the couple as demonstrated in their interactions and their enjoyment of discussing the past and sustaining their affection. There are elements of sadness when speaking about the loss of friends and associates murdered during the Pinochet period.
Pain transpires when Augusto does not recognize his wife and her name or when he speaks into a dark glass imagining friends behind it. He is troubled e when separated from his books, though he is holding them, or when he experiences isolation though his partner is next to him. There are also moments of a cognitive void. But the film is not determined by these elements, recorded by Pailona Umutia when the pandemic prevents them from leaving their home and filmmakers cannot continue . Rather The Eternal Memory gains its power from tracing the connections between the couple; her kindness and his lucidity articulated.. What was more important for me than the Alzheimer element is the recognition conveyed by the couple of the fundamental role of memory. For them and most of us memory is essential for maintaining the sense of self, for identity sustenance and staying truthful. Losing memory opens an abyss of chaos and disorientation.