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#HotDocs23 Review: The Eternal Memory

April 30, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Augusto Góngora is a celebrated former journalist in Chile, who protested against dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Paulina Urrutia is an actress and former Minister of Culture. The two have been together for 25 years in Chile, and continue to share a close bond even as his memory fades due to Alzheimer’s. Their love story is captured in poignant detail in The Eternal Memory, which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance.

Directed by Maite Alberdi, who also tenderly explored themes of aging in her Oscar-nominated documentary The Mole Agent, The Eternal Memory serves as a deeply moving testament to their love. The film weaves in home movie footage of the couple in their younger years, a cinematic memory that remains as Augusto’s mortal memory fades. This makes the present day scenes, often filmed by Paulina, all the more powerful.

The film is challenging to watch, with heartbreaking footage of Augusto reduced to tears as he worries that his books will be taken from him. We see the moments of distress in the middle of the night as he struggles to remember who Paulina is, and the flashes of guilt as he realizes he doesn’t recognize her. There are also bittersweet moments when they watch his old news clips together, and he emotionally experiences the fall of Pinochet all over again.

Produced by Chilean master Pablo Larrain, The Eternal Memory is undoubtedly one of the finest documentaries of the year. Augusto and Paulina’s love story is set against the backdrop of an awareness of their country’s history of brutal dictatorship that tried to silence dissent and destroy historical record, fitting context given the subject matter of the film. The result is a gorgeous film about memory, both the individual and collective, framed as an incredibly moving romance.

Screenings: Saturday, April 29th, 5:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre; Monday, May 1st, 11:00 AM at Isabel Bader Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

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