The Mole Agent (Review)

At the heart of this documentary is a perceptive statement about the way the elderly are treated by wider society. It is a film that wants to highlight the isolation and loneliness that is burdened upon the older population, even by the well meaning. It is a thing we notice at an institutional level, but – as the film hints – our suspicions of institutions can be used as a smoke screen, as a way to offload guilt. Also, people rarely notice the everyday pains, and only properly look when there seems to be something outrageous.

These conclusions are really thoughtful, and challenge the viewer in important ways. However, they are buried under a lot of concept heavy details that, ultimately, get in the way of the film. This is not a straightforward documentary, it mixes performative fiction with reality as it chronicles a spy story as well as the conditions inside a care home. We start with our filmmakers putting out an advert for an elderly man (80-90) that can use technology. The response to this is used as a way to show how this part of society are maligned and ruled out, as the interviewees shown talk about a job opportunity – and an opportunity in general – being an anomaly. From here, a person is picked and tasked with going undercover in a care home in order to investigate a woman to see if there are any strange goings on.

The tone around this is very goofy. It is a nice way of humanising the central figures, as they come across as very charming, and the goofy tone does help the film to paint a very positive portrait of the older generation. However, the film often feels a bit directionless. The concept goes a specific place at the end, which makes it make sense, but for a lot of the film it just seems like an odd meld of things. An impression is given of not fully submitting to the conceit and, for a lot of it, the approach does not seem to glean much. The incidental moments, though, are really great. We are privy to lovely encounters and conversations, the kind only opened up by the perspective of our agent. Later, it is clear this was the point all along – to a certain extent – but a final justification does not salvage a film entirely.

The messages here are all great and the film is undeniably charming. It is clever too: a satisfying watch that does bring more to the table than you would think – and goes places you would not expect. It does not, however, fully work. The approach is smart but not wholly successful, with the layered concept taking as much away from the film as it gives. It is worthwhile in the end, but you will still feel there were more wholly satisfying ways to push these ideas.

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