Not all documentaries are created equal. Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi’s ‘The Mole Agent’ does not play by the lazy stitching of talking heads against a grey backdrop. Feeling a strange affinity with truth-searching private detective Rómulo Aitken, Alberdi hangs out in his office while he recruits an assistant for a case that’s more common than you might think: a client who wants to know if her mum is being mistreated in her nursing home.
Up pops Sergio Chamy, a clueless octogenarian armed with a smartphone and a willingness to help out. This lonely widower has answered an ad looking for an age-appropriate spy to go undercover in the care home to find out if all is well.
At first, it feels overtly staged – almost like a spoof. But soon the artifice fades and what comes into sharp focus is a remarkable insight into the lives of lost souls drifting towards oblivion. Chamy’s arrival causes a stir, not least because he’s a handsome chap with a keen ear who does what so many of the mostly female residents’ families fail to do: sit with them and listen to their hopes and fears.
Chile’s Academy Awards hopeful, this deeply humane film is concerned with the invisibility of age, and how easily society forgets those who held us up. It’s so much more than a whodunnit, and all but the hardest hearts will fall in love with its spirited group of characters who have so much still to give.
Out in the UK Dec 11.