11 Aug 2021

The Mole Agent

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 11 August 2021

In this Chilean documentary, an 82-year-old widower is enlisted by a private detective to investigate alleged abuse at a retirement home. 

Dan Slevin: The Mole Agent is an existential horror about the inevitable journey we all take into decrepitude and irrelevance. At least that is how it sometimes seems.

It's an Academy Award-nominated documentary about a widower recruited by a private detective to go undercover in a Santiago retirement home. There have been rumours of elder abuse and the daughter of one of the residents wants to be sure her mother is being cared for properly.

After some basic but important training in tradecraft and technology, and despite the protestations of his own children who quite like having him around, the charming Sergio enters the facility for what will end up being months of clandestine reporting.

With a recording device hidden in his thick-framed spectacles, he wanders the corridors of the unsuspecting retirement home, looking for evidence that bathrooms are not being cleaned properly or that dressings might not be changed regularly.

But The Mole Agent takes a turn when Sergio becomes less interested in finding evidence of abuse - mainly because he doesn't find very much - and more interested in the lives of the people he is sharing the home with. It turns out that many are lonely and unhappy but not for the reasons that the private detective and the resident's daughter might think.

Once The Mole Agent drops the conceit - and the heavy-handed gumshoe noir effects and music - it becomes one of the sweetest and saddest little films I've seen in a long time. The lessons for a long and happy life are simple to understand, it turns out, but not easy to implement: stay connected to the world, especially your family. Maintain your curiosity about the world and the people around you. And pay attention to your physical health, especially chronic pain which can drive you out of your mind long before your time.

While there are some scenes in The Mole Agent that are heart-breaking there are many that are heart-warming. And, once you've got past the idea that this geriatric spy is somehow walking around with a professional camera crew in his wake, you'll be captivated by Sergio and his friends.

The Mole Agent is rated G for - what's officially described as - Very Mild Themes although I would venture that if you or your parents or grandparents are of a certain age and infirmity these are some pretty heavy themes indeed. It's playing in select cinemas around New Zealand now.