The Mole Agent was supposed to be a fun film. A documentary in which an 83-year-old man goes undercover at an old folks home to investigate possible wrong doings, the film begins with every indication it will be a light, even adorable spy send up. The score, the camera angles, the funny montage of the main private eye interviewing possible moles - all bolster the feel that this will be a spy pastiche with a perfect novel approach.
And then that’s not what happens. But the shift is not abrupt. PI Romulo eventually picks the thin and neat Sergio to be his mole agent. We laugh as he struggles to operate the iPhone he’ll use to file daily reports. There’s a joyful familiarity as he’s shown his spy gadgetry - a camera pen and pair of glasses. We are ready to watch this cute old man pretend to be a spy. The film even creates and shares a fake excuse to bring their cameras into the home to capture what happens.
We are all ready to go, and then Sergio begins doing the work of befriending a community of forgotten and abandoned people who want nothing more than human contact. Soon the very idea of calling them adorable becomes offensive. Sergio has a target to monitor but there’s not much for him to do, so instead he offers companionship to a host of troubled individuals.
Sergio isn’t necessarily younger than the home’s occupants but he is much more lucid and mobile. He’s different. Luck, genes and various life choices likely contribute to this, but as the film progresses we get the idea that what sets him apart is his ongoing and healthy relationship with his daughter and her family. A recent widower, there is a dignified sadness to Sergio, but he has not been cast aside like everyone he meets in the home.
I feel documentaries often get set up for one thing and then have to hope for the best of what life gives them. The Mole Agent has the air of a film that would have preferred a more exciting and funny turn of events. Instead it’s a gentle meditation on loneliness and a fate that threatens us all.
Which is all to say, this movie is a real emotional gem. And of course that is a great thing. But it’s important to know what you’re getting into when even the film itself starts out selling you on a different experience than it ultimately provides. I laughed, I cried, I immediately wanted to volunteer at one of these homes. I also considered taking up smoking again because I don’t think I ever want to be this old. Not everyone is as lucky as Sergio.