Chile enters the Oscar race with Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent, which has been shortlisted for two Academy Awards. The film tells the story of Sergio, a senior citizen hired by a private investigator to infiltrate a nursing home. The Academy Awards ceremony is set to take place on Apr. 26.
The Chilean Film Academy has selected The Mole Agent as entry for the 93rd Academy Awards. Directed by Maite Alberdi, the movie tells the story of Sergio Chamy, an 83-year-old widower hired by a private investigator to infiltrate a nursing home and search for evidence of abuse.
The Mole Agent premiered in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival but a national screening could not take place because of the pandemic, although the film has been available online since November and was recently added to Netflix.
With the Academy Awards approaching, The Mole Agent has been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film categories. The nominations will be announced on Mar. 15.
The film begins in the office of private detective Rómulo Aitken, who is placing an ad in the newspaper searching for a senior citizen for an undercover mission.
One applicant, Sergio Chamy (83), says “since my wife died, I’m the one in charge of my life” when asked if he could carry out the three-month assignment. Aitken, however, has to teach him how to use a smartphone to take pictures and record audio messages.
Chamy will investigate if the mother of Aitken’s client is being abused in her retirement home. But many female inhabitants take an interest in him, partly because the place lacks male inhabitants and partly because Chamy is being seen as independent.
But Chamy’s attempts to befriend the woman he is expected to observe fail because she is distant and doesn’t socialize much. He then decides to observe her while helping others, including Marta who is constantly expecting a visit from her mother, and Rubi who doesn’t even remember what her family looks like.
While Chamy integrates well and garners much sympathy, he also experiences the feeling of abandonment shared by many residents, which leads to clashes with Aitken over how to continue the investigation.
From a technical point of view, the film employs standard techniques. It attempts to capture the feeling of imprisonment and various scenes are filmed clandestinely to depict residents’ unmediated views.
One of the most important lessons taught in film school is that the depicted story should have an element of universality so the viewer can relate to characters and events. Alberdi has succeeded in depicting the universal sad reality inside retirement homes.
This reality has become a pressing issue in recent times, with the Covid-19 pandemic making the situation even worse. Many nursing homes banned visits due to fear of infection, leaving the occupants even lonelier than before.
The film has already had real life impact: in February, an anonymous donor sent flowers to the residents of “Hogar de San Francisco de El Monte” in Talagante, the residential home where Sergio spent three months undercover.
The Mole Agent succeeds thanks to its charming lead and universal subject, making it a heartwarming documentary recommendable to anyone who takes an interest in the way society treats senior citizens.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.