Documentary film “The Mole Agent”, which was recently nominated for Best Documentary Oscar early in this month (It was also selected as the Chilean entry for Best International Film Oscar and then included in the 15-film shortlist, by the way), is simpler than it seemed at first, and that is not a bad thing at all. While initially looking like an investigative documentary, it goes for something milder and gentler instead to our little surprise, and the result is often sweet, funny, and poignant as accompanied with some sincere musing on life and aging.
At the beginning, director/writer Maite Alberdi shows us several different interviewees who come to a private investigation agency after encountering its rather odd newspaper notice for employment. According to that newspaper notice, the agency is looking for someone aged enough to be around 80-90, and the applicants also have to be familiar with a number of modern electronic devices including smartphone.
One of these very old applicants is Sergio Chamy, who is eventually selected as a mole agent working for the agency despite his evident clumsiness in handling a smartphone given to him. Watching Chamy fumbling with the smartphone on the screen, I was somehow reminded again of my parents often asking me and my younger brother about how to use their new smartphones and those apps installed in their new smartphones, and I wondered again whether I will be in similar circumstances several decades later (If I manage to survive in spite of numerous serious matters in our world, of course).
Anyway, Chamy’s handler Romulo Aitken is ready to put Chamy into their undercover mission, whose target is a little peaceful retirement home for old people. One of those old residents in this retirement home is the mother of Aitken’s client, and his client, who is incidentally never shown in the documentary, has some concerns over whether her mother has been actually treated well. Although she can just go there for confirming on her mother’s current status, Aitken’s client wants to be absolutely sure about her mother’s well-being at the retirement home, and it is Chamy’s job to go there as its latest resident and then check on the client’s mother without causing any suspicion from others around him.
The main source of humor in the documentary comes from how Chamy continues to be quite clumsy even after the mission begins. As an old man who has yearned for any new experience, he is quite willing to do those ‘risky’ tasks given to him, and his supportive daughter has no problem with taking him to the retirement home along with Aitken, but it does not take much time for him to cause small headaches and annoyances for his handler. He dutifully carries out his daily tasks as often equipped with hidden video cameras, but he is not so good at hiding his secret activities, as shown from a series of amusing scenes shot at the retirement home by Alberdi and her crew members.
Now you will wonder about how the documentary was actually shot, and Alberdi does not hide her process at all right from the beginning. In the middle of Chamy’s interview early in the documentary, we get a brief shot directly showing us her and her several crew members shooting Chamy’s interview, and there is also a little amusing scene which slightly shows us the presence of a boom mike right above three old interviewees at the retirement home. It is quite evident to us that Alberdi and her production team were allowed into the retirement home without any problem, and, according to the IMDB trivia, they revealed to the retirement home director on what they were actually doing along with Chamy only after the shooting was completed.
While the documentary itself gradually turns out to be not an exposé at all, it slowly lets us get to know several notable residents of the retirement home as Chamy innocently snoops here and there around the retirement home. Because there are much more female residents in the retirement home, Chamy’s entrance into the retirement home leads to some excitement among several colorful old ladies, who still do not give up their hope for more spirit and excitement in their few remaining years. To our small amusement, one of them is very active in approaching to him, and we subsequently get a little sincere moment between them as he tactfully tells her about where his heart really lies.
Needless to say, all of the residents of the retirement home are facing mortality day by day without much consolation from their families, and the documentary calmly observes this rather bitter fact of life of theirs along with Chamy, who often listens to his fellow residents with subdued patience and compassion. While it is often funny to watch him sort of crossing the lines as becoming less aware of his covert mission, it is also poignant to see him bringing some comfort and companionship to his fellow residents, and his phlegmatic but emotional final report to Aitken will linger on your mind for good reasons. Yes, we are all bound to die alone in one way or another, and won’t it be a bit nicer if you have your loved ones around you before going gently into darkness in the end?
On the whole, “The Mole Agent” is a modest but playful documentary which distinguishes itself well in its smart and humorous approach to the main human subjects. Its gentle messages on life and aging are surely familiar to the core, but they are presented in fresh and entertaining ways, and I appreciate how effortlessly it pulls out genuine poignancy as maintaining its lightweight comic tone as before.