The Mole Agent

 

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A documentary from Chile sounds like an exposé but turns out to be a portrait of old age.

 
Mole Agent, The
   

Whatever else you may say about The Mole Agent it is a genuine curiosity. For that reason, it is never boring but in spite of that it strikes me as a work that finds the filmmaker, Maite Alberdi, quite uncertain as to how she should handle her material. Descriptions of the documentary refer to it as a film set in Chile in which a man in his eighties, one Sergio Chamy, is infiltrated into a nursing home as a new inmate at the instigation of a private investigator named Rómulo Aitken. The latter has been hired by a woman fearful that her mother who is in care there is being mistreated. After reading that you might well expect The Mole Agent to be a dramatic exposé but instead the early scenes are humorously inflected. Like a professional spy Sergio is equipped with hidden mini-cameras both in his glasses and in a pen but he is then found to be inept at using them. The music score plays up the comedy of this by inviting us to compare the aged Sergio with James Bond! For that matter, the way in which Alberdi directs her film suggests a fictional work even though it is presented as being factual.

 

If this were indeed a fiction, Sergio's assignment might almost be described as what Hitchcock called a MacGuffin since all he uncovers is one rather dirty bathroom and in consequence the film never delivers on what it had seemed to promise. Instead that initial premise seems to be an excuse to make a film in which Sergio, who is a very amiable presence, talks to various elderly residents of the home. Most of them are women and his interest in them brightens their lives. Some of this is modestly affecting for the tone of the film is sympathetic to old age and never condescending. Of the inhabitants we see some have in fact died since the filming was done but all of those involved may well have enjoyed it (they were fed a story about a film crew being present to make a documentary about the home but nobody knew that Sergio was there for a few weeks as an undercover agent). However, one of the old ladies is revealed to be a kleptomaniac so one wonders what her family felt about this being shown in the film.

 

In these later stages the piece works more naturally as a standard documentary, but we never see the woman who hired Rómulo and never discover why, despite keeping her distance and never visiting the home, she should have incurred the cost of this investigation when there had never been any real reason to suppose that her mother had been ill-treated in the first place. The Mole Agent does manage to be a portrait of old age that avoids being too depressing and there is enough engaging footage of the elderly, including Sergio himself, to appeal to the viewer.  Yet at the same time it is not only a slight work but a film that fails to cohere to the extent that it seems to be flying under false colours. The end credits include one for story consultants but, whatever they contributed, The Mole Agent never hangs together even if when at its best it can be thought of as an engaging oddity.

 

Original title: El agente topo.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Sergio Chamy, Rómulo Aitken, Marta Olivares, Berta Ureta, Zoila González, Petronilla Abarca, Rubira Olivares, Dalal Chamy.

 

Dir Maite Alberdi, Pro Marcela Santibanez, Screenplay Maite Alberdi, Ph Pablo Valdés, Pro Des Catalina Devia, Ed Carolina Syraquian, Music Vincent van Warmerdam.

 

Micromundo Priducciones/Motto Pictures/Sutor Kolonko/Volya Films/Malvalanda-Dogwoof.
89 mins. Chile/USA/Germany/Netherlands/Spain. 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player. Rel: 11 December 2020. Cert. PG.