Maite Alberdi interview: ‘The Mole Agent’ director
“We’re constantly saying to ourselves ‘we are Oscar nominees! Don’t forget that,’” declares Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi about how surreal it feels to be Oscar nominated for her documentary feature “The Mole Agent” while she remains locked down in her native Chile due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Alberdi reveals that she has special dispensation to travel to Los Angeles for the ceremony, alongside her co-nominee, producer Marcela Santibañez, and a very special guest for the big night. “I am going to travel with Marcela and with Sergio, the main character of the film,” she says, referring to Sergio Chamy, her endearing octogenarian leading man. “He is now 87 years old and it’s the first time he’s taken a plane in his life and he told us ‘it’s going to be my first trip and my last adventure.'” Watch our exclusive video interview with Alberdi above.
“The Mole Agent” begins with a relatively straightforward premise. Elderly widower Chamy responds to a newspaper advertisement looking for an “adult male aged 80-90 years old. Independent, in good health, discreet and adept with technology.” He is hired by a private investigator to infiltrate a retirement home to spy on the staff and report back on whether they were abusing a female resident living there.
However, the film shifts from lighthearted spy caper to something unexpectedly moving. Alberdi admits that “this was my starting point, it’s the starting point of the film, but for me it’s an excuse to enter another world,” she explains. The film doesn’t become an exposé on elder abuse, but it rather explores how society often abandons its elderly, while also contemplating on a grander scale the effects of loneliness and isolation. It asks questions about whether societies need to re-evaluate old age, pushing back on the common notion that older people are somehow less essential or vital to society or less deserving of dignity and love.
“The Mole Agent” is only the third ever Chilean feature film nominated at the Oscars. The first nominated film from the South American nation was Pablo Larrain‘s “No” in 2012 in the Best Foreign Language Film (now Best International Feature) category. That was soon followed by Sebastián Lelio‘s “A Fantastic Woman,” which won that category in 2017.
“The Mole Agent” is the first Chilean film represented in the Best Documentary Feature race, a rare feat for a documentary feature not in the English language, like its category stablemate, the Romanian entry “Collective.” For Alberdi, she hopes this helps to break down barriers for documentaries going forward. “For me it was super important as a statement,” she says, adding that documentaries should be more visible in other categories. “I really hope that in ten years, editors of documentaries can be nominated in editing. I really don’t understand why we are always in our separate category,” she says.
The film has also racked up numerous other accolades over the last few months, including nominations for Best Documentary at the Indie Spirit Awards, a top five placing for Best Foreign Language Feature from the National Board of Review and nominations from the Washington DC Area Critics, North Texas Film Critics and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. It was also in the running for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year. It is now streaming on Hulu stateside as one of the best reviewed films of 2020, nabbing an impressive 95% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.