“If we only remember the good things about the people we love, what do we lose?”
Just a generation away, the AIDS epidemic should still persist in living memory. In this hard-hitting documentary, Cecilia Aldarondo confronts the mystery of her uncle Miguel’s untimely death only to discover that his family members have chosen to ignore the most important part of his life.
Memories of a Penitent Heart is the story of a place, of the maddening “island fever” of Puerto Rico, in which church and family, as pestilent institutions of willful ignorance and homophobic discrimination, maintain an inordinate influence on the state’s medical and legal procedures. Aldarondo uncovers damning instances of social injustice that culminate with the dramatic recollection of events that unfolded before her uncle’s death: the battle over the afterlife of his soul fought between his staunchly Catholic mother and his unrelenting lover.
Aldarondo has also written something truly life-affirming. Making acquaintance with Miguel’s theatrical circle, Aldarondo’s compendium of archive material eulogises her uncle’s Broadway dreams as well as the transgressive LGBT nightlife of ‘80s New York. The stunning collage of letters and photographs that surface during her research voice a ghost story that ought to be heard by all.
Most of all, Memories of a Penitent Heart is an extraordinary act of bravery. What begins with the investigation into a distant, long-forgotten family member ends with Aldarondo’s moving reconciliation with her mother, Miguel’s sister. So raw, it speaks universally for the unresolved family conflicts that are common to all.
Memories of a Penitent Heart is the personal story of a family tragedy with seismic potential; never has evidence of societal amnesia felt so incendiary. Aldarondo answers the question she begins with: if we just remember the socially respectable things about the people we love, we might eventually forget them.
DIRECTOR: Cecilia Aldarondo
WRITER: Cecilia Aldarondo
SYNOPSIS: 25 years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece tracks down his estranged lover and cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama.