Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Mole Agent: No “Mission Impossible” for a 90-Year-Old Chilean Private Detective at The Oscars 2021

 By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The Mole Agent” is a triumph of the human spirit! It is the most original, intelligent, charming, and endearing movie of the year. This Chilean documentary tackles straightforwardly, elderly neglect with honesty and tenderness.

The narrative starts when A CLIENT wants to prove a case of elderly abuse against her mother in a nursing home in Chile. She contracts a detective agency that can send its best agent to the mission - someone who can pass unnoticed by the caregivers and the other retirees in the facility.

Rómulo Aitken, the head of THE INVESTIGATION AGENCY, is in charge of replacing the previous agent - due to a broken hip.

The agency's NEWSPAPER AD states that it is looking for a serious candidate, a man between 80-90, for the investigator's position.

THE INTERVIEW AND SELECTION run smoothly. Twenty applicants fit the profile, three seem viable – only one is more thoughtful and formal for the job. His name is Sergio Chamy.  

Finding Sergio was a "happy accident" for the agency and the filmmakers as well. The determined and meticulous ninety-year-old newest agent is capable of taking over the entire investigation. Sergio's mannerism, accent, and impeccable behavior make him look like a well-trained actor, but he is natural, charming and attentive.

THE TRAINING includes using a cellphone, camera, texting, recording devices, and other GADGETS every elderly investigator should know, including WhatsApp, an application that I don't even know how to use. 

Inside THE INSTITUTION, the agent must blend with all the other elderly patients and look like a “normal grandpa” and not arouse suspicion.

THE ROMANCE comes as an unexpected part of every hero’s journey when a coquettish woman wants to date Sergio. He acts like a real gentleman by respecting her without breaking her heart.

THE TARGET is hard to find. It becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack. Sergio’s perseverance guides him to her room, but still, his clumsiness with the gadgets forces him to be more discreet and never look conspicuous or nosy to the nurses or the other employees.

THE POET lights up everybody's story. 

THE SUSPECT seems to be in trouble, and Sergio must find what it is.

THE CONFLICT is not as simple as it seems to be. It has a profound social background that resides inside every family, and how we tend to forget those who gave us life at the end of their lives.

THE RESOLUTION comes as a shocking revelation that no one sees coming. It is almost a biblical lesson to learn, “who is free from sin cast the first stone.”

RELIGION is an essential part of the residents' lives, as we see some religious motifs that provide them comfort.

“The Mole Agent” is the work of a genius coming from a blossoming director Maite Alberti, who in various virtual Q&As repeatedly mentions that the making of this film was fun.

The editing follows the storyline straightforwardly, professionally, focusing on a spy movie structure. After that, everything else felt organic, multi-layered, and complex. She emphasized not directing the subject to do not alter Sergio's natural execution. For her, taking that decision was a risky move, but she had to let Sergio go and live his experience in front of the camera to his fullest.

To have permission to shoot the film inside the facility, the director lied a little. She suggested that the film's attention be centered on Sergio, the newest arrival, without interrupting the lives of others. 

When principal photography was done and the crew left the place, they have to come out with the truth. To come clean, Alberti organized a private screening at the nursing home and mentioned her true intentions. The relationship they constructed inside the facility was real. When they have to say goodbye, it was not much about losing a resident but winning a friend.

Maite Alberti, documentarian, "The Mole Agent." Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo
Maite Alberti, documentarian, "The Mole Agent." Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo

As a filmmaker, Maite Alberti followed her instincts, ensured everyone felt comfortable with the camera. Some people have dementia so to sign the release form, she got the approval of a family member.

Some viewers may have the feeling that everything in this movie is artificially made. They think this vivid story is not a documentary due to the residents’ spontaneous reactions and natural performances. In their opinion, they seriously believe that “El Agente Topo” is a mockumentary because it was directed with professional actors, script, and a big budget. The truth is that this linear story was meticulously planned, naturally performed by real people. Its realism tends to confuse people.

The project is so well-made that it looks like a narrative feature film, but everything in this documentary is real. The cinema verité style shows people in everyday situations, with authentic dialogue. Following the residents' natural actions that validates and engrosses the docudrama.

The crew arrived three weeks before the actual shooting, giving residents and caretakers time to adapt and act normal in front of the camera. During the four months of principal photography, they worked six days a week and waited patiently to capture the precise moment due to the residents’ daily routines.

The Chilean Academy selected this co-production between Chile, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and the United States to represent the South American country at the 93rd Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category. 

This production has been nominated for twenty-four awards around the world. It qualified in the documentary category - gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. “The Mole Agent” is one of the few projects representing the Latino community in a year where people of color got more recognition by the Academy and other essential Guilds and awards.

“The Mole Agent” is a heartwarming story that makes us reflect on our aging population. This Neo-Noir documentary centers on creating an enduring universe where all the players who live, love, and die in a nursing home are real.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Tove: Bounded by Art, Love and The “Moomins”

 By José Alberto Hermosillo
TOVE Poster

Once upon a time in Helsinki, a young lady full of dreams, hope, and vitality wanted to transcend history but didn’t know how. Her name, Tove Jansson. Her creation, The Moomins.

At the end of WWII, in Finland, culture was moderated by politics and religion to reunite society. At that time, the arts were a fundamental part of the country’s economic recovery. Tove’s renowned father, acclaimed sculptor Viktor ‘Faffan’ Jansson, wanted to see his daughter becoming an extraordinary painter, but destiny had other plans.


While Tove’s father worked on his art, the daughter consumed her precious time drawing sketches. The concerned parent asked her to continue painting, and she responds sarcastically, “Should I paint something for our fatherland?” The dialog and the visuals create relevant symbolism throughout the entire movie. 

She wanted to gain independence and freedom from her parents. But those idealistic goals have a price. First, she must create a sanctuary to get inspiration, connect with her interior light, and perhaps a muse. She wants to use her experience as a well-traveled, liberal woman who knows how people in Morocco live.

Meeting a guy is a start to open to her sexuality and to a deeper existentialist level. Tove is a free-spirited woman who thinks having sex with another woman is an analogy of a flying dragon on fire. Still, she believes that life is a beautiful adventure. In her artistic field, rejection does not come from her father’s disapproval but from academics.

She starts moving away from paintings to sketches and plays with the idea of having the stripes with dialogues. Soon, her original and fun illustrations transform into an immense amount of satirical cartoons.

Actress Alma Pöysti plays Tove flawlessly. Before filming, she was already familiarized with the project because she previously participated in the animated feature film “Moomins on the Riviera,” giving voice to Niiskuneiti in the Finnish version.

Among the bourgeoisie, Tove feels sorry for people that are not artistic. “Ingenuity is a hallmark,” she says, referring to a personalized birthday card she drew for the wealthy father of her new best friend, Vivica Vandler (Krista Kosonen). Vivica is a theater director with whom Tove falls in love and decides to live the intensity of the Palme d'Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color,” explicitly speaking.

Throughout the entire film, her graphic work becomes more relevant, Tove’s unassuming and original work starts to gain followers. Her friends and loved ones are drowning in the enigmatic world of the Moomins. Vivica treasures a blueprint of The Moominvalley and makes it hers. 

In Tove Jansson’s life, sometimes, opportunities came from connections with other artists and politicians. She is soon chosen to paint a fresco for the City Hall. A controversy regarding class conflict occurs, not as tense as Diego Rivera’s mural at the Rockefeller Center in New York depicted in Tim Robbin’s “Cradle Will Rock,” 1999. Still, both in favor of the oppressed.

Vivica convinces Tove to write and stage a children’s play, plus elaborating costumes and sets was a titanic labor of love that will pay off later on in her life.


In the play, her ideology and lifestyle are reflected in some of the characters. Smoking, drinking, and swearing can be inappropriate for some children, the press questions her. As an author, Tove wants to materialize her body-of-work as it is, without affliction.


The film becomes heartfelt when we see Tove’s loneliness and her struggle to make ends meet, which forces her to take a more commercial direction in her career. 

In the 1950s, her debut as a cartoonist reached a bigger audience by signing a juicy contract with the London Evening News, the world’s biggest newspaper. She had to publish a comic-strip weekly. To meet the demand, she asks her brother Lars Jansson to come on board. 

The music evolution enriches the story beautifully, evolving from an impassioned Tango to Jazz, Classic, and some fantastic "Chanson Françoise," including the magnificent compositions of Matti Bye (“Everlasting Moments”). 

The Moomins are physically ambiguous in form and color; for instance, they are white, neutral. Their shape is not precisely a hippo, but those charming, chubby creatures are the cutest.

Book cover courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

Children and adults get fascinated reading the gentle sense of humor of “The Moomins.” Besides the sarcasm, they are part of the modern art movement. The creatures criticize the socialites’ pretentiousness and walk of life. They have the ambition to explore the world. The cartoons are groundbreaking for other successful, irreverent, and popular animated series with a similar sense of humor, such as “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” or “Mafalda” from Argentina.

“Tove” is structured is similarly to “Tom of Finland” - the 2017 biopic of an artist pioneer of LGBTQ rights. Tom revolutionized the world of graphics with his risqué and daring illustrations.

Without smearing the feminist crusade in the face, director Zaida Bergroth (“Last Cowboy Standing,” “The Good Son”) recreates Tove’s world in Europe during the 40s, 50s, and 60s wonderfully and portrays the life of Tove Jansson delicately. Bergroth’s focuses on Tove’s art and humanism, social class, and women’s sexuality eloquently.

Written by Eeva Putro, “Tove” is the Finish biographical film of Swed-Finnish author and illustrator, creator of the world's acclaimed Moomins, who transcend through time. The film was selected as the Finnish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. 

“Tove” is an impassioned and imaginative work of art, worth watching to expand our knowledge about essential creators from around the world. 

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