“It was a big little lie, but in the end, I feel like the film really represented the topic in a way that allowed us to enter and shoot for months,” says Maite Alberdi, the Oscar-nominated documentary director of “The Mole Agent.”
That little lie was the entire premise of her film which tells the story of a private investigator named Rómulo who hires Sergio, an 80-year-old recent widower who goes undercover in a nursing home in Chile in order to report on the condition of the facility and the client’s mother.
In fact, the whole premise was kept secret until Alberdi had assembled a rough first cut of the film and showed the footage to the owners of the nursing home.
For three months, Alberdi followed Sergio around with his spy equipment provided by Rómulo, none of which was usable for the edit. The few seconds seen in the film were all that could be included. There were many interesting items that didn’t make the final edit either including Sergio’s face-to-face meeting with the client who hired Rómulo, after writing the profound letter about the conditions of her mother and the nursing home.
“In the end, the film was not about the case or the client,” she says. “It was about all the people there. I read a statistic that the highest suicide rates are from people between 80 and 90 years old, because they feel alone. When you see it all day-by-day, you learn and understand how to establish connections between society and families.”
From the initial research to the final cut, it took about five years to get the film to the screen. With a crew of four, and despite being confined in a small community, the film feels beautifully cinematic, with shots of the residents whispering to one another to the view of the public seeing them talking to bystanders through the facility gate.
“The Mole Agent” was selected as Chile’s submission for best international feature, and was one of two films that were shortlisted in both that category and documentary feature. She is the sixth Latina woman to be nominated in the category, and the first from Chile, but one has yet to win the prize.
Watch the full conversation in Variety’s “Doc Dreams,” presented by National Geographic, in the video above.