Memories of a Penitent Heart

By Dan Clendenin

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Memories of a Penitent Heart (2017)

The film maker Cecilia Aldarondo was six years old the only time that she met her uncle Miguel Dieppa, an aspiring actor who moved from Puerto Rico to New York City. Six months after that one encounter back in 1987, Miguel died of “cancer” at the age of thirty-one. In fact, he died of AIDS, which back then was also called by some “the wrath of God syndrome.” Aldarondo wrote and directed this documentary film in order to find out more about her uncle. It’s an exercise in family archaeology, which by definition means that there are several surprises that are unearthed. The movie is also a struggle over who gets to control a family narrative. The main voices here are Miguel’s lover of twelve years, the Catholic priest Robert, and then Miguel’s mother Carmen, a staunch Catholic saint who was the “spiritual center of the family” whose well-worn Bible attested to her earnest faith. There are multiple layers of complicated emotions and memories here: grief, anger, sadness, fear, ignorance, mutual recriminations, and even forgiveness. It is, as the film’s website puts it, “a cautionary tale of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.” This movie debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, and then was shown on PBS in late 2017. I watched it from the PBS website.

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