For a work whose subject matter purports to straddle the lofty and permanent, its subject appears remarkably contingent. The Eternal Memory, Maite Alberdi’s latest documentary following 2020’s docufiction The Mole Agent, takes on both personal and political significance as it delineates the intricacies of married life under the specter of Alzheimer’s. Specifically, Alberdi grafts the intimate relationship between Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and actress Paulina Urrutia (later, the country’s culture minister) onto a tentative framework seeking to compare the loss of individual memory and identity with a nation’s collective remembrance and amnesia. Góngora, after all, was one of Chile’s most prominent and recognizable television hosts during its democratic transition following Augusto Pinochet’s ruthless 18-year dictatorship. Having spent his career uncovering the nation’s sociopolitical trauma, first through underground newscasts during the Pinochet regime, and then with the television show Teleanálisis — which he hosted — along with a three-volume book (Chile: The Forbidden Memory), he now faces the terrible challenge of uncovering his own faltering mind.
What The Eternal Memory is fascinated with, however, is not Góngora’s political life per se, except where expedient as biographical detail. Instead, it is his steady and loving relationship with Urrutia, spanning two decades, that provides much of the film’s thematic and narrative linchpins. Alongside his wife, Góngora has lived in peace and away from the popular spotlight; his two children from a previous marriage call on them from time to time. Their house, modest but comfortable, neatly furnishes the couple with the space to relive and rebuild their shared memories, and it also embodies their enduring relationship over the 23 years since they met and fell in love. Góngora’s sizable collection of books, nested within one of its rooms, later becomes the object of conflict between the two as his debilitating mental state worsens and he cries out for his wife, friends, family — fearful that the past will soon forget him.
Of course, it’s he who has slowly forgotten the past, and The Eternal Memory’s relatively slight runtime tenderly follows the painstaking efforts — by Urrutia, surely, who has to cope with her husband’s increasing inability to recognize her, but also by Góngora, who’s partially cognizant of his failing state of mind — undertaken to preserve it. Tempered by Covid isolation, they struggle to keep afloat amid the everyday strains of caregiving and dementia; the good days (a walk in their garden, a trip to the theater where he watches her perform) remain buoyed by plentiful happiness, but the bad days are marked by a pessimism uncharacteristic of the usually cheerful Góngora. All in all, however, Alberdi doesn’t quite elevate her narrative beyond the intricate observations of one couple and the broader political strokes their centering implies. Her intimation of the beloved journalist’s experiences and roles, situated within tumultuous history, is always at a remove from the pathos strived for in the present, and while it’s foolhardy to expect that universal themes abandon particular depictions, the overwhelming mediocrity stemming from viewing The Eternal Memory rests in its reluctance to bridge that gap.
DIRECTOR: Maite Alberdi; CAST: —; DISTRIBUTOR: MTV Documentary Films; IN THEATERS: August 11; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 25 min.