film fatales #197: the eternal memory (maite alberdi, 2023)

I kicked off Women's History Month with this Oscar-nominated documentary from Chilean director Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent), about the impact of Alzheimer’s on Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora, and his wife and caretaker, actress Paulina Urrutia. It's a very intimate look at the couple ... apparently, Alberdi tried to convince Urrutia to make a film, she resisted, but Góngora wanted to proceed, willing to get his story out.

Alberdi chooses a non-chronological approach. We see footage of Góngora and Urrutia, available because they were public figures. There are also home movies (with two kids). Alberdi picks up the story a few years into Góngora's illness, a proverbial fly on the wall with her camera. Both Góngora and Urrutia were used to cameras because of their work, which made the inevitable intrusions more tolerable, and there is little feeling of exploitation.

The movie is both heartbreaking and inspiring. The love the couple has for each other is palpable, and if Alzheimer's has yet to be conquered, the two manage a life together, and interact with the outside world until COVID drives everyone indoors (Alberdi has said that Góngora's health got worse when he couldn't interact socially with others). In the earlier years, Góngora is aware of his situation, even making light of it at one point. This makes his deterioration even sadder, until he's not sure he recognizes his wife.

Alberdi connects this personal story to a social need to work with collective memory. Góngora began his time as a journalist during the Pinochet dictatorship, and he was dedicated to making the truth public whenever possible. As his disease progresses, Góngora's memory of those times fade, but Chileans collectively remember eternally.


mehdi hasan and zeteo

I rarely talk about current affairs ... this blog has a category devoted to it with close to 800 posts over the years, but this is the first post with that tag since November of 2022. The blog has narrowed significantly since its beginning in 2002, no question, and I don't have a reason beyond laziness. But it's also true that I might feel I have something to contribute to a discussion about film, but when I think about politics, there's always someone out there who knows more than I do and says what I think more effectively than I would.

Mehdi Hasan is an example of this. He is from England (and is now a naturalized citizen of the US). His journalism career includes time spent at the BBC, Al Jazeera, and more recently MSNBC, where he often offered takes on topics that made me wonder how a mainstream news organization in this day and age let him on the air. My fears were probably right, since MSNBC gradually cut Hasan's time on air. At the beginning of 2024, Hasan left the network, and he has now resurfaced with Zeteo, "where independent and unfiltered journalism is making its comeback." Zeteo claims to be "a new media organization that seeks answers for the questions that really matter, while always striving for the truth." They have a home on Substack (zeteonews.com), and big plans for the future. Yesterday, Hasan hosted a Zoom "Town Hall" where he answered questions for about 40 minutes.

Zeteo is a subscription service. Here is a brief introduction:

Hasan sounds very ambitious, and only time will tell if he will deliver. I like his track record.


music friday: 1981

Kim Carnes, "Bette Davis Eyes". This song was so huge that it almost seems like Carnes was a one-hit wonder, since nothing else she did came close. But she's recorded more than a dozen albums, and has not one but two Grammies. Ironically for this songwriter, "Bette Davis Eyes" was written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss.

Soft Cell, 'Tainted Love". It feels so much of its time (as do all of this week's songs, to be honest), that it's amazing to realize it was originally the B-side of a flop mid-60s single. I also love this bit of trivia: the man who wrote "Tainted Love" also wrote "Dirty Water" ("I love that dirty water, Ooh, oh, Boston, you're my home").

Prince, "Controversy". Looking back, I think the pre-Purple Rain Prince is a bit misremembered. He was already Prince, but he wasn't Biggest Act in the World Prince. This is the title song from his fourth album.

What was I doing in 1981? Attending my first Prince concert. This was recorded a week before we saw him:


the peanut butter falcon (tyler nilson and michael schwartz, 2019)

This is the twenty-fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 24 is called "The Disabled Experience Week":

What does it mean to be disabled? The societal definition of disability has changed over the last century, encompassing a wider range of concepts and understanding. These shifts, unsurprisingly, have also found their way into movie-making. Where once films "othered" their subjects via unsympathetic depictions or overly melodramatic characterizations, the cinematic tide is slowly turning. Now, more than ever, we are beginning to see those with disabilities given agency and expression, with filmmakers resisting the tragic or heroic stereotypes towards which they once tended. Yet, achieving greater authenticity is difficult if the people you seek to portray have no involvement on either side of the camera. Greater inclusivity is—as in all other areas of film—fundamentally crucial but still severely lacking.

This week's challenge is to watch a movie about the disabled experience from either Brian Koukol ♿ 's 20 Essential Films Concerning The Disabled Experience list or Rikka's list, good films w good disabled rep. If none of those titles are available to you, take a look at dogunderwater's disabled characters portrayed by disabled actors list.

The casting of Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, to play Zak, a character with Down syndrome, is a welcome sign of inclusive casting. Gottsagen more than justifies the confidence of the film makers ... he is the best thing about The Peanut Butter Falcon. Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz avoid a lot of pitfalls, largely by making Zak a full character, without stereotypes, recognizing the complexities of the character without falling victim to making Zak too lovable or too pitiable or basically too anything. Zak is a person.

Shia LaBeouf is the main character, a marginal-to-society fisherman who takes Zak under his wing. LaBeouf has been in some good movies, and he's solid here, but there's something about him that makes me not like him, so it took me a long time to warm to his character. Dakota Johnson also has an important role, and the directors get some good performances throughout, especially the always-reliable John Hawkes, and even pro rasslers Mick Foley and Jake the Snake Roberts.

So there's a lot to praise about The Peanut Butter Falcon, and it's a heart-warming story for the whole family (among the Letterboxd lists people have placed it on are "Comfort Movies", "warm hug cinematic universe", and "u make me feel better". The problem is that there is nothing particularly special about the story or its presentation ... it references Huckleberry Finn, but doesn't do much with that. There is nothing different about the film, outside of the presence of Gottsagen. Which matters, and he is a welcome presence. You won't be sorry you watched The Peanut Butter Falcon, but I don't know that it's the kind of movie you'd return to time and again.