But don’t make that spy expression.
After spending four months alone since his wife passed, Sergio Chamy is ready for change. Did he or his children think that meant the eighty-year-old would answer an ad in the paper to infiltrate a nursing home and spy on its employees to discover whether or not elder abuse was occurring? Not even remotely. That the private investigator (Romulo Aitken) who hires him on behalf of a client (who suspects her mother is being mistreated and robbed) has to teach Sergio how to use a smartphone despite requesting applicants be technologically proficient only proves he didn’t either. But when you’re looking for an octogenarian who can fit in with the environment, beggars can’t be too choosy. And it’s not like Sergio isn’t up for the task.
Maite Alberdi‘s El Agente Topo [The Mole Agent] documents just how game he is thanks to a camera crew that’s already on the ground (Possibly under false pretenses? This isn’t fully explained.) and hidden lenses in both Sergio’s glasses and pen. More often than not, Romulo is actually telling his operative to slow down, be more prudent, and not look suspicious. What he doesn’t understand, however, is that Sergio knows exactly how far to go. When you’re one of just four men opposite forty women—and the only one with enough wits and strength to remain autonomous—you can’t ever get too close. And when your job is to create dialogue with residents who rarely (if ever) receive visitors, his curiosity moves right past potential mistrust into empathetic compassion.
What starts as a detective mission in pursuit of uncovering a crime therefore quickly turns into a heartfelt treatise on the ways in which our elderly has been systematically forgotten by their children instead. So while the fun and excitement that comes from Sergio learning his task and those humorous early days slinking around the home with his little notebook may draw us in, it’s what Alberdi captures later that sticks with us. Because what exactly happened to make Romulo’s client think her mother is being mistreated? Did she see bruises? Did something go missing? Did she witness something with her own eyes? When you already have a camera crew on-site, you have to imagine that everyone will be on their best behavior. What then is the motivation?
Sergio being an amateur is thus crucial to the task because he’s not in it for the money. He may be getting paid, but he seeks the adventure and excuse to break-up the monotony of his grief. Where Romulo becomes rather demanding insofar as needing hard evidence and daily reports to feed his client and keep her happy, Sergio is witnessing the emotional and psychological complexity of what this place means to its residents. He sees how well the nurses treat everyone. He enjoys the constant parties and understands how important the joy such celebratory events provide is to people who haven’t experienced that same energy with loved ones in forever. Sergio ostensibly becomes more of a family figure to these people than their own flesh and blood.
And let’s face it: discovering what’s really happening doesn’t take much. Whether it’s Berta Ureta and others singing the praises of God and this community or the client’s mother constantly being helped in and out of a wheelchair because of how far her motor skills have weakened, there’s not even the slightest whiff of malpractice. We’re often so quick to blame the people who are actually caring for our parents and grandparents because we feel inadequate and guilty for not being the ones to do it ourselves. Sergio gets that. He’s lucky enough to be able to do so considering he’s here voluntarily with family that’s in on the ruse and still visits, but his ability to give the benefit of the doubt where warranted shouldn’t be undervalued.
Once he personally exonerates the institution, Sergio begins to look elsewhere. He deciphers patterns of behavior and ultimately does find a thief in their midst, but he weighs the extenuating circumstances surrounding the crime and realizes the lack of malice or even cognizance on behalf of the thief. There are residents who barely remember what they did the day before and some who the staff call pretending to be their dead mother because time has become an illusion inside these walls. They get confused. They take things that don’t belong to them. They grow lonely from being forgotten. Sergio sees it all and it kills him to think Romulo’s client is willing to destroy the only lifeline these people have based on a hypothesis that holds zero water.
He inevitably chooses to become their biggest champion and friend rather than follow orders into a morally and ethically gray area of which there’s no return. Sergio invests in these people’s lives to be their confidante and in some cases their savior when it seems that all hope is lost. That’s what they need after all. A shoulder to cry on. An arm to lean on. An ear to listen. Romulo’s client is ignorant to the fact that the biggest reason her mother’s attitude has shifted is probably because she abandoned her. While the people being accused of abuse help this woman survive and Sergio vigilantly knocks on her door to see that she’s all right, her daughter is at home deflecting responsibility. That’s the only crime here.
courtesy of Gravitas Ventures