★★★ Recommended (Video Librarian)
Reviewed by Milton R. Machuca-Gálvez, Swarthmore College
"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."
EMRO | Reviewed by Candace Smith
American Anthropologist | Reviewed by Nell Haynes, Northwestern University
"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."
Booklist | Reviewed by Candace Smith
"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."