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There are moments of sweetness and sadness in Maite Alberdi’s documentary about an old people’s care home in Chile. But I couldn’t make friends with this film because of its pointless and twee contrivance, which undermined its genuine ideas. Not fakery exactly, but an exasperating lack of candour as to how this whole thing has been set up.
We begin by seeing a Santiago private detective, Rómulo Aitken, who has placed an ad in a paper for an elderly man to be a spy or “mole agent” in an old people’s home, posing as someone needing short-term respite care. With the aid of gadgetry such as hidden cameras and microphones he must find evidence of elder abuse. The detective’s client is evidently a woman whose mother, Sonia Pérez, is in this home, and the daughter is worried. So a very sweet and lovable widower called Sergio Chamy is finally recruited and installed as a resident.
But wait. The documentary, it turns out, already has a crew in this place, working openly with the home’s permission, having apparently assured it that they wish only to make an uncontroversial film about life there. The vast majority of the footage is from this team, with only a few seconds of the “secret” video from Sergio’s hidden cameras. So … when did Alberdi get involved? When she saw the newspaper ad? Or did she herself have the idea for a care-home film, and cooked up this semi-serious “mole agent” idea to give it a quirky spin?
Either way, Sergio does not discover any elder abuse, only the residents’ loneliness and unhappiness and the scandalous way their relatives don’t visit them: a malaise in society which we are finally sort-of invited to accept is the real abuse. As for Sonia Pérez’s daughter … we never see her. Was the whole “abuse” worry a fictional premise? Sergio himself has real gentleness and is a lovely character, and there is some amiable comedy about how he is starting to enjoy himself in the home. But he is marooned in a tricksy, gimmicky film.
• The Mole Agent is in cinemas and on digital formats from 11 December.
Source: The Guardian
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