The Mole Agent
Despite this Chilean documentary’s charmingly impish setup, audiences might be subconsciously steeling themselves for a brutal exposé about neglect in the nursing home where The Mole Agent takes place. What unfolds instead turns out to be a gently astute examination of what it means to be old – and generally forgotten.
The opening sequences offer a unique framing of the film’s objectives. A series of men are interviewed after replying to a newspaper advertisement seeking a male between the ages of 80 to 90 who is not afraid of technology. The job requires the successful candidate to go undercover at a nursing home where a worried daughter has contracted a private eye to spy on the facility and its staff, since she’s concerned about the level of care her elderly mother is receiving.
Regardless of some adorable bumbling when it comes to the software involved (which is primarily WhatsApp), 84-year-old Sergio Chamy lands the assignment. He moves into the assisted living facility and attempts to locate his target, which is easier said than done since he’s one of only four men amongst 40 women. The lead is a tremendous choice for the project – filled with empathy, while never seeing his fellow residents (or himself) as objects of pity. His gentlemanly demeanour isn’t lost on the other inhabitants. At one point, Berta (also in her mid-80s) wonders aloud if God has finally sent her a husband who might take her virginity.
While Chamy’s spy goals give The Mole Agent its narrative thrust, the end result is more of a quietly observational mediation on the communities that exist in nursing homes, who are often unceremoniously abandoned by their own families. The most profound moments are almost incidental, as the protagonist becomes more emotionally intimate with the elderly women he’s living with. A particularly upsetting scene occurs when one of the spy’s new friends looks him in the eye with apparent lucidity before calmly confessing that she has no idea where she is, or why she’s there.
There is no epiphany or overt denouncement of the system entrusted with the care of these elderly people; it’s not that kind of documentary. If anything, the espionage element is largely unnecessary, since director Maite Alberd and her crew seemed to have full run of the place without the need for clandestine information gathering. The result is a poignant portrait of a generation who, through no fault of their own, have become victims of circumstance.
The Mole Agent is released digitally on demand on 11th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Mole Agent here: