PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 21: (L-R) Rocío Jadue, Maite Alberdi and Rebecca Lichtenfield attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Eternal Memory” Premiere at Prospector Square Theatre on January 21, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images)
By Aliese Muhonen
A man wakes up disoriented in bed. “What happened?” he asks, rubbing his eyes. Seeing a woman sitting at his bedside, he smiles and introduces himself. “I am Augusto Góngora. And who are you?”
“I’m Pauli,” she says warmly. “Nice to meet you.” As she shakes Augusto’s hand, she tells him that she is going to surprise him. She says he has two children, two siblings, and that he has known her for over 20 years.
“Twenty years? No way!”
She laughs. “I swear! And you know this room? It’s our room.”
“Because we’re married.”
This scene from The Eternal Memory (La Memoria Infinita) embodies Augusto Góngora and Paulina “Pauli” Urrutia’s humorous and bittersweet interactions, as they navigate a relationship where one partner doesn’t recognize or remember the other. The documentary about their love story premiered January 21 in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Augusto and Paulina have lived incredible lives. As two of Chile’s most prominent public figures, they’re a multi-hyphenate power couple: He’s a former journalist–documentary producer–TV personality, and she’s an actress-academic-politician. They’ve shared a loving relationship and a beautiful home for 25 years.
If only Augusto could remember it.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years prior at age 62, Augusto has slowly lost many of his most precious memories. Paulina became his full-time caretaker shortly after his diagnosis, maintaining their relationship and her husband’s well-being by including him in her work and activities.
The poignant irony is that memory and history were especially significant to Augusto prior to his diagnosis. As a young journalist, he opposed Augusto Pinochet’s Chilean military dictatorship by participating in underground media and even published a book of the country’s history that the regime tried to erase: Chile. The Forbidden Memory.
Oscar-nominated for her 2020 Sundance premiere, The Mole Agent, Chilean director Maite Alberdi depicts the couple’s sweetness to each other and struggles with the disease through a nonlinear mix of footage. Their present ups and downs are sprinkled with flashbacks of Augusto’s media projects, Paulina’s theatrical and political pursuits, and treasured moments from their romance. Paulina also embraced the unexpected role of documentarian when Chile went into lockdown during the pandemic.
“I was so lucky to accompany them for the past four years,” Alberdi says in a Sundance “Meet the Artist” video interview. “In the process of following them, Paulina also picked up her camera to record their intimacy too. And in the past, Augusto used to record his family life. This is the first time that I have [shot] a movie where I am moved by every moment.”
While there are heartrending scenes as both grapple with Augusto’s symptoms, the couple’s humor and beautiful relationship dynamics are irresistible. Even when Augusto can’t remember that he’s married, he still flirts with Paulina, playfully reacting with disbelief that he’s with “such a pretty woman.” Meanwhile, Paulina brings Augusto everywhere with her. Even, amusingly, to one of her avant-garde theater rehearsals, where he dances to his own rhythm as they practice.
“Since the diagnosis, they started being together all day,” Alberdi says in the video interview. “Paulina [made] him part of her routine and refused to leave him isolated. They have never experienced this kind of relationship before and they love it.”
“Paulina always says that the only way to evolve as a society is for everyone to take care of another human being at some point in our [lives]. The Eternal Memory [shows] us that there is not only one way to be a couple or one way to experience love.”