Maite Alberdi mixes sweet romance with melancholy in this quiet documentary.

Alzheimer’s is, by any measure, a tragic disease, one that progressively deteriorates a person’s memory and mental functions. A disease without a cure, I approached The Eternal Memory with a bit of apprehension, expecting to be emotionally devastated by the end of the documentary. But filmmaker Maite Alberdi mixes both romance and melancholy in her film following Augusto Góngorra and Paulina “Pauli” Urrutia. Having been in love for 25 years, it’s immediately apparent that Augusto and Pauli have a life that is full of love. Augusto was a journalist early in life and a prominent cultural commentator and television presenter in Chile. The Eternal Memory blends both footage from today with archival footage of Augusto in the past.

Having witnessed the rise of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte’s rise as a dictator, he talks about the value of memory and the importance of what is left over when the truth is masked. It’s a small part of the documentary, but we can instantly understand the impact of covering this dark time in Chile’s history by the way he recalls the most grisly memories of Pinochet’s reign.

Pauli Urrutia and Augusto Góngorra sitting on a stage in the documentary The Eternal Memory
Image via Sundance

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, at his side is his wife Pauli, an actress and politician, once the Minister of the National Council of Culture and the Arts of Chile. Now, she acts as both her husband’s companion but also his caretaker. The Eternal Memory plays like a romantic film as we follow Pauli and Augusto through glimpses into their past but also their present. Pauli is ever patient and affectionate while Augusto is playful and regularly declares his love for her.

The documentary is intimate, giving us a look into their day-to-day lives, sometimes when it seems as if there’s nothing wrong, and other times when we watch as Augusto’s memory deteriorates. He struggles with remembering who she is, and who his family is, talks to himself, and sometimes these episodes last for hours on end. We watch as Pauli wakes Augusto up and reminds him of who he is, or helps him remember parts of his past that he’s forgotten.

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Pauli Urrutia laying on Augusto Góngorra while reading in the documentary The Eternal Memory
Image via Sundance

It’s far from a comprehensive look at either of their lives, as it feels like there’s far more beneath the surface of both of these people’s careers and lives that we could delve into. But this is about their love and the memories they share. While there are other people in Augusto’s life, Pauli is the one he sees every day, and in one scene he forgets her for hours at a time, and she breaks down crying, struggling with the fear and uncertainty of when his memory will come back.

It often feels like they’re waging an uphill battle, one that feels impossible to overcome but somehow doesn’t manage to diminish their spirit as long as they have each other. Alberdi reminds us of the essential beauty of personal connection, and it elevates The Eternal Memory from a memoir to a glimpse into what the best humanity has to offer even in times of hopelessness or crisis. The film isn’t about some grand idea, not in any literal sense. There is no climate crisis or political scheme to uncover, instead, it documents a true story about love and what the strongest bond of love can conquer, which at times in The Eternal Memory, it feels like it can conquer anything.

Rating: B

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