Movie review: ‘Mole Agent’ is a moving documentary about aging
Old people are funny, so goes the long-held Hollywood trope. And it’s with that in mind Maite Alberti begins her nursing-home documentary, “The Mole Agent.” Sure enough, it’s a laugh a minute, as a Chilean private investigator combs through resumes in search of an octogenarian to go undercover in search of malfeasance inside an old-folks home suspected of abusing and neglecting its residents.
It’s James Bond meets “Grumpy Old Men.” Just watch as the seniors, all men, struggle to maneuver their way through operating the iPhone they’ll use to record video and communicate with their chief handler, Romulo. Hilarious! But once all of the candidates have paraded through and a hire is made, a subtle shift in tone can be detected. A poignant charm begins to emerge via Sergio, the tale’s geriatric Jason Bourne. He’s 83 but looks late 60’s as he walks through the front doors of the San Francisco Nursing Home with Romulo posing as his concerned godson.
Initially, Sergio creates quite a stir among the facilities’ overwhelmingly female population. And it’s hard not to chuckle as the ladies plot to win the heart of the handsome new stranger. But the more he - and we - grow to know these lonely hearts, the more the laughs evolve into painful reminders of the loneliness and abandonment awaiting most of us if we’re unfortunate to live past 80. By the end, I was dissolved in tears. Not so funny anymore, is it?
Touché, Ms. Alberti. Pretty sly. You got me. Your gimmick worked. I’m so glad it did, too, because the insight to be gleaned is immeasurable. And the empathy, like cream, rises to the top. I wish I had a dollar for each heartbreak endured during the film’s blisteringly quick 90 minutes. How could families be so cold as to “warehouse” these lovely women? True, the advent of dementia and the constant need for attention is much too much for most of their busy, overworked children to handle. But can’t they at least visit once and awhile?
It’s almost too much to take. Just ask Sergio, as he visibly grows more distressed by what he’s witnessing. His mission of espionage gradually becomes a need to supply the companionship the women so desperately crave. The doctors and attendants aren’t the abusers, loneliness is. And like Sergio, the impulse is to close your eyes and run away from the emotional trauma. But he can’t, and neither can we.
Point made. So what’s to be done about it? Alberti leaves that to the viewer. But is there any solution to the ravages of age? Sadly, no. It’s depressing as hell, especially once you start to realize what you’re watching could well be your future. It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t for sissies, as Bette Davis once famously remarked. Yet, it’s as much a part of life as eating and breathing. So, why do we want to turn away and pretend it’s not happening? The answer might well be the same reason the sons and daughters of the residents keep their distance. They’re afraid. Not of their aged parents, but of time and its unrelenting cruelty.
Al Alexander may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Mole Agent”
A documentary by Maite Alberti featuring undercover agent Sergio and his handler, Romulo. In Spanish with English subtitles. Available for streaming on all platforms.