Jul 06, 2021

Poetic, candid and intimate: New documentary about life inside an aged care home

The Mole Agent documentary

The Mole Agent follows 83-year-old father, grandfather and recently widowed Sergio Chamy, as he goes undercover in an aged care home to investigate a family’s fears their loved one is being abused.

While the film has the playful style of a ‘whodunnit’, it reveals itself more powerfully as a sensitive and deeply moving depiction of Chamy’s compassion, and his gentle efforts to improve the lives of residents at the home.

Chamy applies for an ad in the newspaper: “Man needed. Between 80 and 90 years old,” said the posting. “Independent, discrete and competent with technology.”

A short training period follows, and Chamy is embedded into the San Francisco Nursing  Home in the Chilean city of El Monte. He is given some detective tools – an iPhone, a camera pen and glasses that can film his surroundings – and must report back to his boss, private investigator Romulo Aitken, on everything he sees. “You’re going to be my eyes,” Aitken says.

The Mole Agent is directed by Maite Alberdi, and was nominated for ‘Best Documentary’ at this year’s Academy Awards.

Alberdi, who has previously made two films about ageing – I’m Not From Here (2016) and La Once (2014) – worked as an assistant to private investigator Aitken until she found a project she thought would make a good documentary topic.

She and a small crew were on site at San Francisco on the pretence of making a film about the home.

At first the residents are conscious of the cameras and microphones, and joke they are being spied on. But as the film progresses, they candidly reveal their thoughts and feelings, seemingly with little regard to the crew.

Chamy’s arrival at first creates a buzz of excitement among the residents, of whom 30 are women and only four men.

While he commits to the task he has been assigned, he also quickly becomes involved in life at the home, where staff do their best to entertain and care for residents. He makes friends, and his gentle, perceptive nature makes him popular. There is even the suggestion of a marriage.

Alberdi said, “Sergio is willing to live a new life, meet new people, and listen.”

Some of the intimate moments captured in The Mole Agent are almost painful to watch: the mother who never comes, the family who don’t visit, a life lived without a partner. 

We see that Chamy is becoming increasingly upset by what he observes, and the suffering of so many of the residents.

By the end of the movie, Chamy finds no abuse has been committed, but more profoundly he tells Aitken the family paying him to investigate their mother should be at the home themselves.

Here lies the issue at the heart of the movie, and it is one that will be familiar to anyone with an interest in aged care. The residents have been largely forgotten or abandoned by both society and their families, they are marginalised, dehumanised and neglected. Chamy does his best to help, but in the end he just wants to go home.

The Mole Agent is in cinemas from June 17, 2021.

Have you seen The Mole Agent? What did you think? Share your thoughts below. 

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  1. This is a movie that is on my must-see list – only blocked by the current Sydney lockdown – so thanks for the detailed review, and fingers crossed that SBS On Demand will take it on.

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