‘The Eternal Memory’ Review: A Love That Lasts When Recollections Fade

The word “Alzheimer’s” isn’t spoken until well into “The Eternal Memory.” While that may be because this documentary’s subjects rarely mention it themselves, withholding the diagnosis also seems like a deliberate choice by the director, Maite Alberdi (“The Mole Agent”).

An uncannily intimate portrait of a couple adapting their relationship to a disease that affects the mind, “The Eternal Memory” doesn’t aim to hold spectators’ hands. Like Paulina Urrutia, whose husband, Augusto Góngora, is the one with Alzheimer’s, the viewer must continually reassess Góngora’s lucidity, which for long stretches is hardly in doubt. Part of Urrutia’s strategy is to gently quiz him about their lives. Does he remember their first date? Was it at one of their homes? (The correct answer is no: Neither can cook.)

Góngora — who died in May, after the film was completed and first shown — was a TV journalist in Chile who participated in underground newscasts during the Pinochet dictatorship. Urrutia is an actress who served as culture minister during the Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s first term. Their occupations add another layer of reflexivity: In different ways, both were involved in telling other people’s stories and preserving the national memory.

Urrutia, who is shown taking over the shooting of the documentary once the pandemic necessitated isolation, is almost surreally unflappable; she is rarely seen losing patience with Góngora, although there is a heart-rending scene in which she informs him that he has gone a whole morning without recognizing her. Could any film completely capture such a private dynamic? Surely not, but at moments, “The Eternal Memory” appears to come close.

The Eternal Memory
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters.

The Eternal Memory

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