VOD film review: The Mole Agent
James R | On 11, Dec 2020
Director: Maite Alberdi
Cast: Rómulo Aitken
Watch The Mole Agent online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / Dogwoof On Demand
Man needed. Between 80 and 90 years old. That’s the unusual job advert that caught one guy’s attention in Chile. Hiring? Private investigator Rómulo Aitken. The job? Going undercover. In a nursing home. If that sounds like an irresistible hook for a movie, you’d be right: The Mole Agent is one of the most entertaining documentaries in recent memory.
Director Maite Alberdi follows Sergio as he eagerly jumps at the chance to play James Bond. Of course, the reality is something very different. Yes, he has the tech – glasses with a hidden camera and a pen with another camera – but the mission is far from the kind of world-ending supervillain plot he might be expecting. His mission? To confirm for Aitken’s client whether or not their mother is being mistreated at the care home.
Going into the home as a resident, Sergio swiftly sets about his task, surreptitiously checking the number of residents, their gender, how old they are and more. He reports back his findings to Aitken, who has experiencing in such operations and exposing potential malpractice or poor conditions in nursing homes. But once he finds his target, he finds himself less inclined to pursue the mission, and what begins as an unlikely espionage thriller turns into a story of friendship and forming connections in an environment where both may well be assumed to be absent.
It’s a superb piece of filmmaking on so many levels. Alberdi positioned her own cameras within the home before Sergio entered, agreeing with the home’s staff that she was filming a documentary about day-to-day life there. That means we can see Sergio’s behaviour from an external perspective, and watching him bumble his way through his mission with the least James Bond-like skills imaginable is hilarious, especially when the soundtrack leans into his would-be 007 antics.
Whittling down hundreds of hours of footage, Alberdi deftly turns a tale of suspense and humour into something more quietly profound. What begins as a woman’s offspring guiltily checking that they haven’t abandoned their relative grows into a wider, ensemble adventure, featuring a charming group of eccentrics, from a kleptomaniac to a flirtatious former nun. Along the way, there is still time for moments of playful, sophisticated storytelling, as we see (briefly) the crew recording this all while Aitken is explaining Sergio’s assignment to him – enough of a witty meta-flourish to keep things clear without getting bogged down in distracting layers.
The result is a surprising film to everyone involved as well as those in the audience, effectively doing what Alberdi pretended she would do in the first place: chart the everyday affections and ties that form among residents within this closed-off community. There’s a poignant power to the way that Sergio brings companionship and comfort to the women around him, going some way to remedying the loneliness and isolation they all face. In an age where care homes have become more closed off than usual, for safety reasons, this is a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming reminder of the need to stay in touch with loved ones.
The Mole Agent is available on BBC iPlayer until 5th January 2021