POV: ‘The Mole Agent’

“POV” presents the latest documentary from Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi, an unexpected meditation on aging and human connection in “The Mole Agent,” airing Monday, Jan. 25 at 8:30 p.m. on Arizona PBS.

Named one of the Best Documentaries of 2020 by IndieWire and recently announced to be Chile’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards in the category of Best International Film, ​The Mole Agent ​follows 83-year-old Sergio Chamy who is sent as an undercover spy to a Chilean retirement home to track suspected elder abuse. Through the lens of the hidden camera in his decoy glasses, viewers watch as Sergio struggles to balance his assignment with his increasing involvement in the lives of several residents. Along the way, as he himself tires of the deception at the core of the story, the documentary becomes an honest and unexpected meditation on aging and human connection, all while disguised, at least superficially, as a playful noir spy movie.

Placing the nursing home and its varied residents at the heart of her latest documentary, Alberdi amplifies and pays due respect to the rich inner worlds of those members of society wrongfully categorized as burdens to their families and communities. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, retirement homes have become hotbeds of infection. The documentary thereby humanizes a situation that has only become more dire since the start of the health crisis, providing a portal into a world largely hidden, by nature, from public view.

The Mole Agent​ takes viewers into the San Francisco Nursing Home through the perspective of Sergio, giving life to its long-term residents as captivating, heartwarming, and entertaining characters through Alberdi’s particular brand of documentary filmmaking. By employing strategies that bring viewers into more intimate connection with the plotline while also abiding by traditional techniques of non-fiction filmmaking, Alberdi allows her audience to become invested in the lives of the people on screen in are freshing and ethically-sensitive way. The result is a novel form of documentary that pulls the audience into a moving tale only to reveal that, despite the too-good-to-not-be-scripted atmosphere, it’s been real life all along.

Through her careful directorial sleight-of-hand, Alberdi deftly explores the metrics of loneliness and isolation felt by society’s most vulnerable demographic — the elderly. An unexpected reflection on the nature of loss and human relationships, ​”The Mole Agent” reminds all of us of our collective responsibility towards our communities’ oldest members — a commitment made all the more urgent in the context of today’s global pandemic. Her latest project once again confirms Alberdi as an established innovator in the field of international documentary.

“Maite’s films look and feel different from others. She uses a soft touch and an artist’s palette to bring us intimately into the lives and worlds of her protagonists. Her work goes beyond observational cinema to achieve the authenticity of that form, but with the composition of a well-styled fiction film,” said Justine Nagan, executive Producer of “POV.” “She finds the sublime in the ordinary, and commonality in the exceptional. At ‘POV,’ we were eager to partner on this new doc as Maite was pushing herself creatively to new heights. We couldn’t wait to bring this beautiful work of cinematic art to American audiences on PBS.”

“I think that a documentary has to invite understanding, tolerance and empathy. These can be generated or changed through cinema that allow viewers to connect to everyday experiences and bring us closer to worlds that we do not know,” said director Maite Alberdi. “I was interested in filming the elderly because they’re a group that allows us to build both universal and individual stories. Universal because we can all relate to different aspects of the story, and individual because the subjects whose stories are being told are affected by the difference in their age and the unique experiences that they then live. Sergio is willing to live a new life, meet new people and listen. In his role as a detective inside a nursing home, he teaches us not to judge, nor to set limits, even when you are 85 years old. He taught me to be open to experience without prejudice.”

Already​ “The Mole Agent” ​has made its way onto several prestigious Best Documentary lists, including The Playlist’s “The 20 Best Documentaries of 2020,” and IndieWire and Hammer to Nail’s “Best Documentaries of 2020.” The film received the Audience Choice Prize at the Cinema Eye Honors, where lead Sergio Chamy was also recognized in The Unforgettables category and composer Vincent Van Warmerdam was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score. ​”The Mole Agent” ​secured a position in the Winner’s Circle at last year’s edition of DOC NYC, landed on the IDA Documentary Awards Features Shortlist, and won the The City of Donostia / San Sebastian Audience Award for Best European Film in 2020.

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