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MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART

Twenty-five years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece tracks down his estranged lover and cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama.
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★★★ Recommended (Video Librarian)

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"This is is one of the most interesting and provocative documentaries on recent LGBTQI+ debates for its delicate handling of the intersection between religion, sexuality, gender, ethnic identity, and colonialism. It is an exceptional example of the inventive possibilities of creating a personal documentary—a congregation of contrasting voices and a myriad of archival material held together by the clever use of an ingenious narrative strategy. Beyond its cinematic and narrative merits, it is a substantial contribution to the representations of Puerto Rico. The opposing narratives of a young Puerto Rican gay man coming to the United States in search of personal fulfillment, while asserting and determining his place in New York City, will help college educators in the discussion of issues of gender and sexuality in the Latin American context."

"On the surface, this is a simple biography, but an astute audience member picks up on important themes of migration, religion, memorialization, and the importance of material culture to memory."

Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo’s uncle Miguel died decades ago at age 31, and Aldarondo has always wondered about the circumstances surrounding his death. Poring through family photos and home-movie footage, interviewing family members (some in Spanish with subtitles), and reaching out on social media, Aldarondo begins piecing together her uncle’s life. This very personal documentary addresses some wider issues, including homosexuality, AIDS, ethnicity, religion, and family relationships.

LGBT Weekly

Reviewed by Steve Lee

“Cecilia’s Aldarondo’s beautiful and evocative film explores the difficulties of not only being Puerto Rican in America, but also what it means to be gay and shunned by your community, family and church,” said POV Executive Producer Chris White. “This personal and complex portrait of her uncle, and those who loved him, shows how hard it can be to reconcile religion and sexual identity—and, in this case, demonstrably clouds the line between sinners and saints.”

The Village Voice

Reviewed by Nick Shager

Memories of a Penitent Heart may be, at 74 minutes, one of Tribeca 2016's shortest features, but this exceptional documentary is also one of its most profoundly affecting. Often heard but never seen on-screen, director Cecilia Aldarondo digs through memories, mementos, and misconceptions in order to uncover the truth behind the 1980s death of Miguel Dieppa, a gay Puerto Rican native long alienated from his intensely Catholic mother, Carmen, and, to a lesser extent, his sister Nylda (the filmmaker's mother). On his deathbed — from what was unofficially described as cancer but was clearly AIDS — Miguel asked for God's forgiveness, though afterwards, no healing reconciliation took place between his family and Miguel's longtime New York City companion Robert, who was so spurned and disregarded by Miguel's clan that, decades later, Nylda still can't recall his last name.

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Best Documentary

Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival

Special Jury Award for Emotional Honesty

Indie Memphis Film Festival

Official Selection

2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Official Selection

New Orleans Film Festival

Official Selection

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

Official Selection

Guanajuato International Film Festival

Official Selection

Inside/OUT Toronto Film Festival

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Latinx Studies • LGBT Studies • Religion Studies
Memory Studies • Film Studies • Psychology
2016. Director Cecilia Aldarondo.
72 Minutes. In English & Spanish with English Subtitles. Includes Captions.
 

Combining a wealth of recently discovered home movies, video, and written documents with artfully shot contemporary interviews and vérité footage, MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART is a documentary that cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama. The intimate lens of the film refracts on a wider cultural context: the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and in particular, how families treat their LGBT members in a Latin American cultural and religious context. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.

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