No one grows up looking forward to old age. As a child, if you were fortunate enough to grow up alongside adoring grandparents, there exists a naïve notion that elderly people were just born like that. For most young adults, after exiting the socially awkward dynamic of high school—and even college for some of us—planning for the retirement, or even musing over the reality that your 20s will not last forever, could not be further from their minds.
Allow me to break the fourth wall for this review. I think about time a lot, probably more than I should. To be fully transparent, I hold a soft spot in my heart for movies that dissect the reality of growing old and confront the inevitability of death in a competent, authentic fashion, which is why I praise films like “The Irishman” so passionately and movies such as “Synecdoche, New York” and “Cleo from 5 to 7” strike an emotional chord with me. Within certain regard, for people who meditate on time, film criticism is one of the least optimized professions to engage in due to its, regrettably, disposable nature. Sadly, the general moviegoer could not care less about, in the words of Stanley Kubrick, “silly, supercilious gags about something [movie critics] hate.”
Consequently, the regimen of viewing a film, contemplating the intentions of the artist(s) and identifying the quality of execution can admittedly lead to a disconnect between the critical viewer and the work itself; a disconnect that robs the viewer from realizing that, oftentimes, the movie is discussing a very real facet of very real life that will likely affect you in the very real world.
Thankfully, Maite Alberdi’s documentary “The Mole Agent” never allows you to forget that its subject matter, elderly life, will claim everyone eventually. The set-up for the film—an 80-year-old man assigned to infiltrate a nursing home to uncover the possible mistreatment of its patients by a private detective—might sound like an arthritic James Bond parody, but the reality could not distance itself further away from espionage fantasy if it tried.
Don’t worry. Darkness does not exist in the vocabulary of “The Mole Agent.” In fact, the documentary’s leading quality rests in its overwhelming expression of empathy, which is undeniably driven by Sergio Chamy, the titular mole agent and recent widower assigned to the case. Consequently, Chamy’s human qualities, the man’s abiding compassion, selflessness, and gentlemanly charisma, elevate what could possibly be regarded as straight-forward into an emotionally stirring realm of existential queries and sorrowful truths.
Of course, Alberdi’s film could still document the daily, excruciating isolation that elderly people battle after being disposed of by ungrateful children, but Chamy interacting with these patients, many of whom are women, in his soft-spoken, warm-hearted cadence permits the aforementioned sentiment to hit close to home. Observing these patients confined to the same location without any visitors or regard from the outside world is tragic. Utterly heartbreaking.
However, “The Mole Agent” exceeds beyond a depressing reminder of death’s inescapability, electing to operate as a celebration of life by following individuals, ostensibly, amid their final days. An adorable sense of humor courses beneath the documentary’s wrinkled skin, capturing romance—Chamy’s wit and kindness quickly turn him into the chief hunk of the retirement home—and cutesy thievery alongside its sobering reflections regarding age and seclusion.
Compiled from over 300 hours of material, “The Mole Agent” understands, and effectively applies, the rules of cinematic language better than most fictional features making the rounds in theaters nowadays. The story flows, undiluted by unneeded tangents or information, while the tone flawlessly shifts from mundanely bleak to vibrantly festive without the audience ever taking note of the brilliant, elusive sleight of hand at play.
For Chamy, the events of the documentary arguably assisted in finalizing a season of mourning in the widower’s life, but for the women permanently restricted to the retirement home’s grounds, the experience of the “The Mole Agent” likely reminded them that they still exist; that, despite being deserted, they still matter.
Within the film community, a stigma exists around the concept of a “perfect movie.” For some, perfection is defined from a technical perspective, referring to the coalescence of each creative component firing off in harmonious union; in my opinion, “Burning,” “The Social Network,” and “The Lighthouse” would easily meet this criterion. On the other hand, others would claim that perfect movies are rooted in emotion; personally, I favor this definition, which allows me to assert that films like “Climax,” “Good Time” and “Lake Mungo” are faultless works of cinema.
Granted, regardless of your favored definition of moviemaking perfectionism, the consensus arises from taste, and in my eyes, “The Mole Agent” is a perfect film. From a technical and emotional viewpoint equally, “The Mole Agent” possesses no flaws. Yes, as with every documentary, manipulation is openly displayed and validity can always be questioned, but “The Mole Agent” dissuades any inkling of pessimism or negativity through its unabashed sincerity.
Furthermore, Alberdi makes no attempts to disguise the movie’s fundamental message or impart an agenda apart from this—take the time to love your family. Call your parents to thank them for the sacrifices they made, and maybe make the extra effort to visit your grandparents the next time that the holidays roll around. Life is short, and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so why waste your day worrying about matters outside of your control?
In my mind, the sole function of a movie should be to make you think; to present an argument that invites you to bring your experiences forward and contextualize them within a given runtime. Remarkably, “The Mole Agent” stretches this principle beyond its traditional limits with unforgettable grace and wholesome absence of pretension, proving that hope does not conclude upon reaching a certain age. Changing lives can occur at any stage in life and taking the time to show genuine compassion will never, ever go out of style. [A+]