The Mole Agent feels very much like a narrative film even though it’s a documentary, and that’s a good thing. It tells the story of Sergio, an 83-year-old man recruited by a private investigator in Chile to go undercover in a nursing home. The daughter of one of the residents thinks her mom may be suffering abuse there. But rather than becoming a film about the evils of institutional care for the elderly, it’s a warm and humorous take on a community of old people who Sergio can’t help but grow to care for.

The film opens with the detective Romulo interviewing men between 80 and 90 for the job. They need to be tech savvy, which proves to be a difficult skill to find. But he settles on Sergio and teaches him to use a variety of gadgets for documenting the care of the target. Sergio will be giving him daily reports and shooting video with his specially equipped glasses and a camera hidden in a pen. And it seems that it’ll be very cloak and dagger, but then you realize there are cameras all over the nursing home, and it turns out the filmmakers have told them that they are following Sergio for a documentary. So they have access to the whole place. Which makes it a film within a film and sometimes feels a bit wacky.

But what the film is really about is Sergio’s relationship with the lonely ladies of the nursing home. One falls in love with him and even plans a wedding. Another is a thief who warms to him. There’s one who has dementia but he spends time with her and even gets Romulo to bring her photos of her family. Another reads him her poetry. Sergio falls behind in his undercover job because he cares about all the women. (It is mostly women. He’s one of just 4 men there.) And when he leaves after the three months he agreed to, he tells them all that he will visit. And you believe he will.

You have to wonder if the detective was also a casting agent because Sergio is just so charming and decent. Which may be why the film feels like a narrative feature. He and the women have lovely conversations and small moments together. It’s a portrait of the lonely visited for a while by someone who cares. And it’s beautiful and sad at the same time. And totally worth seeing.

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