The Mole Agent

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Mole Agent
"Alberdi keeps the tone light and profound simultaneously." | Photo: Alvaro Reyes

Sergio (Sergio Chamy) answers an ad looking for a man in his Eighties or Nineties to spy on the goings on in a nursing home in Maite Alberdi’s immensely entertaining and wildly funny The Mole Agent (El Agente Topo). The film (a New Directors/New Films highlight and Chile’s Oscar submission) starts out as an investigation into a specific place and slowly evolves into something much larger. Bruno Dumont’s films may come to mind - all that humanity is breathtaking! Not a false note sours what could so easily have gone the cute and brutal, marigold plucky saccharine pensioner horror route. As is the case in Anna Sofie Hartmann’s debut feature Giraffe (another ND/DF highlight), the fluid boundaries between documentary and fiction only work in the films’ favour.

Sergio is to check into the San Francisco Nursing Home, outside of Santiago, Chile. For three months he is hired by private detective Rómulo (Rómulo Aitken) to report daily about the 'target' and advised to be 'prudent'. Armed with spy glasses and a camera pen he phones in not-so coded messages and videos.

Copy picture

At his new place of residence Sergio befriends various inhabitants and takes part in joyful extravagant celebrations (with costumes and balloons and cakes) with the staff. He is one of few males at the home (40 women, 4 men he counts), and soon becomes the object of affection for a variety of ladies. The girly gossip could be lifted from a high school movie, albeit with different attributes of praise.

Here the adjective of choice is: “He looks lucid!” And that lucidity has a lot to do with a sense of purpose, the feeling of being useful to the community, of having a task to do. The job interviews at the start of The Mole Agent already make the strong point that if more people in their Eighties and Nineties had assignments, the world would be a better place. The terror for everyone is to be left behind to become a burden instead of an asset.

At one point we see the film crew following our debonair agent hero. Alberdi keeps the tone light and profound simultaneously, as our top-pick agent tackles the tasks at hand. Widower Sergio is a smart dresser in his rotating assortment of V-neck sweaters and tweedy jackets. Sergio’s newest best friends include Petita, who is a poet, Marta, a daring thief, and Bertita, who has been living in the home for 25 years. The latter flirts with him overtly and wants him to be her first love. The elegant Mme Rubira is the one, we can tell, Sergio clearly likes best. The real anguish of memory loss is treated with dignity and respect and the implications about depositing others without care are enormous.

While it is the children who do not visit, many of the inhabitants are obsessed with their mothers and the sense of abandonment they feel - the human condition in a molehill. The Mole Agent makes you question a society as a whole that decided at some point that people of a certain age or with a certain predicament could be dumped off for storage and that this arrangement is perfectly normal and acceptable.

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2020
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When a family becomes concerned about their mother’s well-being in a retirement home, private investigator Romulo hires Sergio, an 83-year-old man who becomes a new resident – and a mole inside the home, who struggles to balance his assignment with becoming increasingly involved in the lives of several residents.

Director: Maite Alberdi

Starring: Sergio Chamy, Rómulo Aitken, Rubira Olivares, Marta Olivares, Berta Ureta, Zoila Gonzalez, Petronila Abarca

Year: 2020

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Chile


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