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“Illness is not the end of relationships, nor is it the end of love” – Maite Alberdi talks The Eternal Memory

4 min read

MTV Documentary Films

Maite Alberdi's latest work, The Eternal Memory, offers a poignant and intimate look into how dementia can affect a relationship. Prominent Chilean journalist Augusto Gongôra and actor Paulina Urrutia have been together for over 2o years. In his career, Augusto became a voice for the people, ensuring that the monstrosities that came with the Pinochet dictatorship were shown, not lost in time. In present day, Augusto has been living with Alzheimer's for eight years, “Pauli” has taken on the role of caregiver as well as lover. As she tends to Augusto as his health declines, it is now her that prevents a loss; his identity. Maite uses both new and archival footage of the couple to aid the telling of their love story, and more importantly, how it has never waned. Filmhounds spoke to director Maite Alberdi…

What initially drew you to telling this story? 

It was the first time in my life that I had seen a couple so in love, especially in the middle of a painful situation. They didn't make it seem painful, rather a challenge. I looked at them and all I saw was desire, love and hope. They were never suffering, which was beautiful. That was my starting point, I wanted to share their love story. From the beginning, I was only thinking about the relationship that they had. 

Was there an ethical challenge relating to Augusto's consent?

Consent was never an issue for us; we first approached the couple around seven years ago. He was still in the very early stages of his Alzheimer's, so he was very conscious of his choices. We then spent a year discussing their limits and boundaries. It was Augusto who was pushing for this more than anyone. He felt it was his path given his journalistic background, “I've shot so many documentaries, so many people. People have shown me their pain and fragility, so why wouldn't I show my own?” It was Paulina that had doubts, he was the one that convinced her. He decided to finish his life as he had lived – making documentaries, though this time he would be the subject. 

MTV Films

Emotionally, was this a difficult to make?

The challenge was more about how to balance the upsetting situations. Before this, I'd never personally lived through such an emotive experience,  I had to figure out the best way to shoot. I soon found out that Augusto didn't have one week terrible, to one week great. It was much smaller, one day was good, one day less so, but there were always moments of joy to counter the sadness. 

The Eternal Memory offers an alternative look into Alzheimer's, was this your intention from the start?

Originally, I thought I was going to make a film about what Augusto forgets, though I soon realised he never truly forgets Pauli. He will only ever forget her in moments. He would never forget his emotions, just certain information or dates, but his love remains throughout. You can see this when he speaks of their friend they lost, he doesn't recall everything, yet he feels the pain, which I knew I needed to share. I discovered that his relationships through time remained special, despite the illness.

This isn't the first time dementia has been a theme in your films; The Mole Agent also touches on it. Is it something you believe needs more traction in documentary cinema?

This film was purposely the opposite of anything else I've done. Dementia has been a reoccurring theme in my films, though the location differed. In The Mole Agent, I filmed people in a retirement home, where they often felt completely alone and isolated from society. With The Eternal Memory, it was the first time I had seen someone (with Alzheimer's) integrated and so in love. Before the pandemic, Paulina would take Augusto to work with her, they were still having a mostly ‘normal' life. That really moved me. It made me want to question how we deal with fragility as a society; their relationship for me, was the best example of how to face it.  

What was your greatest challenge?

The Covid-19 pandemic was a huge challenge. It was so long, I didn't know how to manage that situation with regards to filming. However, in the end, that obstruction became our biggest gift. Paulina didn't know how to use the camera, though she took up filming when we couldn't. She would pick up the camera for the most intimate moments. We get to see the couple lying in bed, that's something we would never have captured. The frame is often out of focus or too dark, but it truly doesn't matter. What she captures is so deep and complex, it shows another level of their relationship that makes the film remarkable. 

Finally, what is one thing you learnt from making this film?

I learnt that there is no single way to be a couple, or to experience love; I saw that with them. Illness is not the end of relationships, nor is it the end of love.

The Eternal Memory will be released into cinemas on Friday 10th November.