“The Mole Agent,” directed by Chilean director Maite Alberdi, is one of those documentaries that makes you wonder whether it really is a documentary because of its dramatic and emotional progression. Alberdi plays with the traditional expectations for a documentary, tricky enough to lure the viewer into 90 minutes of laughter, heartache and thrill. The film isn’t overwhelming, but rather inviting to life’s big questions, and leaves you with a feeling of immense compassion.
The film follows Sergio Chamy, an 83-year-old man who is hired by a private investigator. The investigator, Romulo, searched for an agent on behalf of an unnamed client who is concerned that her mother is suffering abuse in the nursing facility in which she resides. Sergio, as the film’s title suggests, is tasked with infiltrating the nursing home as a new resident and reporting what he discovers inside to Romulo.
What results is a film that dances with several genres that shouldn’t work together but do. “The Mole Agent” begins with the slightly comedic tone of a self-aware spy movie, dramatic guitar riffs reminiscent of the “James Bond” film series, punctuating moody montage shots of Romulo interviewing elderly men for the job. The mood soon evolves into a very intense close-quarters examination of what it means to grow old. The film embraces the subtle melancholia that underpins life in a nursing home, as Sergio learns that many residents have been abandoned by their families.
At his core, Sergio is a sensitive man, and indeed a man affected by grief. His wife died four months prior to him taking the job as an investigator. In approaching others, he carries himself with a certain humble charm that allows him to become close friends with them. He begins to understand the deep-set sadness of many of the nursing home’s residents, an emotion that underscores much of “The Mole Agent.” It is not a tragedy, or even really a very sad film; rather, its sadness is like an old scar, something whose cause has been long forgotten, but whose effects on the individual can still be observed and passed onto the viewer.
Visually, “The Mole Agent” is incredibly stylish. It’s one of those films that make you wish there was a documentary about how they made this documentary. Residents of the nursing home are regularly filmed in close-ups as they share extremely personal insights into who they are and how their lives have led them to this final state. Some are fortunate enough to retain close relationships with their families, but even those who don’t are able to share their thoughts, feelings and regrets on camera. Alberdi’s interest in telling the stories of as many residents as possible speaks to his prowess as a documentary filmmaker.
That said, a large part of the film’s emotional core can be attributed to the fact that it features Sergio as its central figure. He is an immensely charismatic and likeable person, able to approach any other resident of the nursing home and instantly strike up a conversation that adds emotional depth to the film. He is open about his own grief, and as such, others seem willing to share their thoughts and emotions with him. Serigo’s vulnerability is a major benefit to the film as a whole, as it adds a layer of depth and humanity to “The Mole Agent.” The film goes beyond the mere journalistic or reportorial documentation of facts and events that is standard in the documentary genre.
All things considered, “The Mole Agent” is an engaging, well-made and intricate film, equal parts spy movie and meditation on life and the passage of time. It’s not overly exciting, nor is it too heavy-handed with respect to melancholy, striking a very delicate balance between genres and ends up being a thoughtful and shockingly endearing little film.
Email Nicholas Pabon at [email protected]