Credit: Film at Lincoln Center
by Steven Warner Film

The Mole Agent | Maite Alberdi

December 9, 2020

The Mole Agent’s overly complicated setup and unnecessary dramatic flair detract from what could have made the film great — the real people. 

The Mole Agent is a bit of a baffling creation. The newest work from Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi bills itself as a documentary, but nothing about the work feels real or authentic. Part of the problem is the set-up, which is too cutesy by half: a private investigator hires an 83-year-old octogenarian named Sergio to infiltrate a nursing home and gather information regarding one of its patients, whose family fears abuse and neglect. But you must understand, Sergio is old, and so he doesn’t know how to properly utilize the modern-day tools necessary to spy; he thinks the camera app on his iPhone is used exclusively to FaceTime, for instance. He’s also given a giant pen and chunky-framed glasses that secretly contain a camera, because apparently this is a 1968 Bond film, and while it’s clear what Alberdi is doing here, the jokes are so obvious that one can’t help but still roll their eyes. It’s also established that a camera crew is already on the premises under the guise of shooting a documentary, so it’s not evident what the point of jumping through all of these hoops is anyway, particularly when the cameras follow Sergio everywhere he goes. And remember, the documentary crew is not a ruse, because they are indeed making a documentary, which is this film, and…you can see how this whole twee endeavor gets exhausting pretty quickly. 

It’s all especially galling when the filmmaker’s obvious goal is to simply capture the everyday lives of these senior citizens, individuals who have essentially been discarded by an uncaring social system. Alberdi focuses most of her attention on the female population of this particular community, who run the gamut from depressed and lonely to spry and horny. Sergio is certainly a charmer, even being crowned “king” at an anniversary celebration for the facility, and he befriends many of these women, which allows Alberdi to share their stories. Unfortunately, at only 90 minutes, The Mole Agent barely has the time to focus much attention on any one individual with any detail, let alone the catalog of them it attempts, resulting in portraits so thinly-sketched that it’s nearly impossible to muster any emotional investment. There’s also something about this entire production that feels both calculated and condescending, like an episode of the television series Undercover Boss. Alberdi wants to show that these individuals are indeed living, breathing human beings with rich histories and who still harbor hopes and dreams, but she reduces nearly all of them to caricatures for the camera. This is the type of film that people walk out of and say, “Aren’t old people cute,” which does a great disservice to the forgotten men and women at its core and the mechanisms that orchestrate their exile. Good intentions aside, The Mole Agent is borderline insulting in its approach, and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. If the ostensible ethics that inform Alberdi’s film resonate, you’d be better served to go volunteer at an elderly care facility for a few hours. There’s no doubt it would be a vastly more rewarding experience than watching this dubious flick.

Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2020 — Dispatch 2.