Storyville: Undercover OAP—The Mole Agent, directed by Maite Alberdi
Posted by celticman on Tue, 23 Mar 2021
Undercover OAP was short-listed 2021 Oscars in the documentary category. The set-up is the kind of cheesy romps made by post-war Ealing studios. Detective Romulo needs to recruit someone to infiltrate a Chilean nursing home. Their mission is to find Sonia, who is resident in the nursing home, and to determine if she’s been properly looked after, or abused (the implicit message otherwise why would Sonia’s daughter hire a Private Investigator?) Detective Romulo recruits recently widowed Sergio, 83-year-old, to be his dapper spy.
Romulo, like M, in Bond movies, instructs Sergio on how to work the latest hi-tech gizmos before he goes undercover, beginning with a basic iPhone (I don’t know how to work a smartphone either) in which his mole has to make daily reports. Then he moves on to spectacles that can film what Sergio is looking at in real time. And a pen, a decoy device, that films and captures audio.
Sergio looks suitably bamboozled and reverts to pen and ink when making his reports. He’s the added advantage of a film crew following his progress. (These other hi-tech items props in a staged show of an investigation.) Shades here of a book I didn’t finish, and a film I found unfathomable, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2013), but Sergio is climbing in a different kind of window and world. We the viewers are voyeurs.
What happens next is unscripted. Sergio isn’t much of a spy. After a few days, he finds Sonia’s room. He reports back she doesn’t leave her room much. She prefers to be alone. She’s not talkative and seems happy enough that way.
Marta, another resident, is a bit of a magpie. Sergio reports back that he’s sure she stole a necklace from Sonia’s room. But Marta stands at the gate and calls out for her mom, and waits for her to visit. She’s waiting to go home. Her mum has been dead for at least twenty years. Nobody visits her. Staff indulges her and hand her a mobile phone, and playact speaking on the phone and kidding on it’s her mom. I found that subterfuge lovely and loving.
After being voted Carnival King, Sergio is given a surprise birthday party for his 84th. Cakes and dancing. Most of the residents are women. Benita, aged 85, for example, has an eye for Sergio. She wonders if Sergio would like to go outside with her and help her collect her pension. She asks the staff if she should give up her God-given virginity to him. Bright-eyed as a schoolgirl the prospect makes her happy. Sergio lets her down gently. He tells her his wife is still in his heart.
Mrs Rubira can’t remember talking to Sergio, her mind wavers. She remembers her children, but they don’t remember her. None of her family has visited for years.
Petita, another resident, writes poetry and talks about the loneliness epidemic. Each resident despite being part of a crowd, even for the poorer members, sharing a room, is alone and lonely, with few visitors. One resident recalls bringing up her family and her grandchildren, but when she could no longer give, they got rid of her.
When Sergio’s three months are up and it’s time for him to leave, he explains to his new-found friends that he’s met he was happy living with them, but he has a one-year old grandson that melts his heart. He’s less graceful about Sonia’s daughter that hired him. If she wants to find out what his mother is like, he says, he should visit her. Families and friends have similarly abandoned most of the women in the home.
That is the real crime. We are the culprits. I don’t need a detective to tell me, I’m guilty of also having abandoned my mum before she died in Boquanran House. It was just up the road. I visited infrequently, perhaps once a month, then once every two months. I lied to myself that it was alright. She was alright. Shame on me.