Very rarely do you see a film evolve before your eyes. Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent begins as a fun assignment for a senior citizen to regain his youth, but it shifts focus into how we treat our elderly citizens.
The documentary focuses on Sergio Chamy, an 83 year-old man who was recently widowed. He is among a group of Chilean men who answer an ad for an job offer from a private detective (Romulo Aitken) to infiltrate a retirement community. One of the members of the community is believed to be suffering abuse or neglect at the facility, and Sergio is tasked with going undercover at the facility to get to the truth.
Romulo gives Sergio all the latest gadgets including a new cell phone and spy glasses. Technological barriers are readily apparent, but Sergio is helped through. His task includes a three-month stint in the community and his daughter is worried about the assignment, but Sergio assuages her and the octogenarian is placed in the facility.
With the seed planted, the viewer immediately is on edge for unscrupulous and negligent staff at the nursing home. But the narrative shifts the dynamic to the reverberations from Sergio’s arrival to the mostly-female population. Sergio is spry, polite and handsome, which reduces a number of the ladies to giggling schoolgirls at the new man’s arrival.
Sergio gets to work to identify the target, but his natural charm and politeness endears him to his fellow elders. He meets distinctly different women, including one who believes her mother is coming to get her out, one who recites poetry, one with a failing memory and one who has spent the last 25 years in the community. He endears himself to these ladies so completely, that one falls in love with him, concluding in a painful scene where Sergio has to admit that he is still in mourning for his wife and is not in love with her.
Romulo grows increasingly impatient as Sergio cares for all the members, and not just the target of the investigation. Sergio eventual does discover the target and grows increasingly suspicious of the motives of the target’s daughter, who never comes to visit. While some of the ladies are outgoing and love having Sergio around, the target wants to be alone most of the time and is outwardly aggressive towards others.
The film is beautifully photographed and all the members seem blissfully unaware of all cameras and sound, despite an initial discussion from a group of ladies. Each conversation feels almost intrusive, but lends to the intimate nature of these individuals in the late stage of their lives. Sergio glows with humanity and warmth, truly caring for each person in the community without a hint of pretentiousness or self-aggrandizement. Each report Sergio gives to Romulo frustrates the investigator, but delights the viewer as he describes the various food and activities he and the other residents have taken part in.
Eventually, the film shows its true nature as a comment on what our society does to our parents and grandparents when they are too old to care for themselves. No visitors are ever seen at the community, with the notable exception of Sergio’s daughter. These people have laid the foundation for the young to succeed and then they are cast aside in these environments, but they are still people. The lonliness drips off the screen.
Sergio Chamy is too good for this world and Maite Alberdi’s film shows how goodness and an infusion of the new can be the spark for our elders. We do not respect them enough.