In a year never seen before in Oscar nominations, with the most diverse roster of actors in history, the 93rd Academy Awards comes with virtually no Latino representation. At the forefront of this small group comes the Chilean director Maite Alberdi (Santiago de Chile, 1983), who this week premieres in Spain ‘The mole agent’. The film, which competes against ‘Collective Crip Camp’, ‘My Octopus Teacher’ and ‘Time’, is among the favorites to get the statuette. Halfway between an observation documentary and a spy tape, ‘The Mole Agent follows Sergio Chamy, an 83-year-old man sent as an undercover spy to a residence. The first sequence shows the agent’s recruitment process, a look between tender and comic, where the foundations of the rest of the narrative are established. Alberdi, with an impressive career as a documentary filmmaker behind her back, becomes the first Chilean woman to be nominated for an Oscar.
-What does this nomination mean to you?
-I am very grateful to the Academy for the recognition. I think that women filmmakers are used to fighting to achieve impossible dreams, and that I, a Latin director of documentaries, can be nominated among the four best of the year is incredible, something that I had not even dared to dream.
-‘El agent mole ‘is a Spanish co-production, but it is also important for Chile in the year in which the Chilean Film Academy was created. What is left of the experience?
-It is a historical milestone. It is an honor to be included in this extraordinary group of films. I think this year has shown us all that life has to be seen from different angles. The nomination can give wings to a film dedicated to the oldest. We must understand that each elder in the world can help us remember that it is not important to increase our years of life, but the desire to live it. After so many losses, we must understand that there is also the pandemic of loneliness. This movie is an antidote to the pandemic of loneliness. I am very proud that the movie has helped so many families reconnect with their elders.
-How did you find Sergio Chamy, your protagonist?
-Sergio is a widower interested in the mystery of the work that we proposed to him. A fragile man, an admirer of José Luis Perales and very good people. He made the movie what it is. His gaze changed the perspective of the film and caught us with its reality. Sergio is not an actor, but a spy, the worst spy in the world but the best character in the world. And, as he gets into the role, he teaches us to put aside his mission and the importance of committing to the people he meets at the residence.
– Sergio went to live in the residence?
-Yes. At first she didn’t want to, but she knew she had to investigate. He lived for three months in the residence and we went to record almost every day, but he made his life there. The people of the home were used to us, because we recorded before Sergio arrived. I had told the owners that I was shooting a documentary about the elderly, without telling them that we were working with a spy. We also told them that if a new resident came in, we would focus on him.
-Why are you interested in the elderly?
-Because they are wonderful. I don’t like to lock people into stereotypes, the same thing happened to me when I filmed ‘Los Niños’ (about Down Syndrome). I wanted to make a different movie and I ended up doing the same thing. When you record the elderly you discover the social typecasting in which they have fallen, I think we should stop separating them so that they do not spend so much time alone.
-Sergio spies for his camera, his eyes are hers as a director.
-Exactly. Sergio’s work is very similar to mine as a documentary maker. Because when I’m filming, I’m a long time waiting, waiting, until I have the scene. Making documentaries requires a lot of patience. The same thing happens to Sergio, he is waiting, following people, waiting, waiting until he gets the proof he needs.
-One of the saddest aspects of your film is that it shows how, even with a good atmosphere and attentive staff, older people have problems because they suffer from their isolation.
– The fault is not of the institution, but ours, because we forget our elders there. We do not worry about integrating them into the community, into our society.
-This is your fifth collaboration with your cinematographer Pablo Valdés. Tell us about that professional relationship.
-My career does not exist without him. We shot this film for three months, from Monday to Friday, and I was seven months pregnant. They have been the most exhausting work sessions of my career. My gear literally helped me stand up. Pablo is a very important pillar in my work.
Review of ‘The mole agent’:
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