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The Man With A Thousand Faces (L’homme aux Mille Visages)

A surgeon, an engineer and a boyfriend deceive a convoy of women in this probing French doc about a multifaceted conman - from the 32nd edition of the UK's favourite indie festival, Raindance

It is said that a man carries two faces: There’s the one he shows to the world, and the other that is reserved for himself. Well, director Sonia Kronlund presents a person with several identities, a subject who lied to as many as four women at the same time. This individual took on several monikers – Alexandre, Ricardo and Daniel are just three of the examples provided – in his quest to trick, seduce and bamboozle his way through society.

Wisely, Kronlund looks at it from the viewpoints of the women who lived with, and loved, this strange person. He posed in a variety of guises: an engineer, a surgeon, a boyfriend. Schematically, this documentary is what Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002) might have looked like if Spielberg had opted for realism instead of narrative, and Kronlund’s work is a fascinating look at deception in a world that is becoming more dishonest thanks to the rise of sock puppets on social media platforms.

One of the women recalls a “romantic” who loved to walk around Paris at night, and another remembers the amorous exchanges they enjoyed. But the film takes a darker turn when it’s suggested that the man doctored pictures of babies to suggest he was a father, using the internet to present himself as a different individual entirely.

The Man With A Thousand Faces is solid, but flatly directed, and never digs far enough into the polemical undertones. The feature hints at the dangers of the internet, but sidesteps it in favour of the perspectives the women present. Occasionally empty in scope, Kronlund compensates with some genuinely powerful interviews. It’s apparent that some of the subjects endured tremendous heart-ache during their encounters with this man; the fury apparent on the screen.

That is one of the project’s strengths: honesty. Transparency elevates a product from watchable to memorable. “When he said he was in Toulouse for paediatric training,” one female explains, “he was in Krakow to see his other wife.” “I know you’re in Krakow with another woman,” another participant posits, “so don’t come back.” Some of the people laugh as their stories unfold, but the chuckles reflect their disbelief and horror that this happened. No one thinks the situation has a comic tone; a tragicomic undercurrent at best.

Again, the person was helped by technology, giving him the freedom to forge new personas out of thin air. Kronlund seems disinterested in this aspect, which is a shame, because it might serve as a greater warning to potential fraudsters in the future. But it does observe how tricky it was for the victims to bring him to justice: an interviewee says he is free to sue people for using his image without his permission.

No one knows who he is, making him an invisible man as well as a chameleonic one. The person told one woman he was Argentinian; another Brazilian. The documentary spans geography, journeying across Europe in the hope to bring context in place of closure. Tellingly, the subjects were shown different aspects to his personality, which varied in their outrageousness. One woman says she thought “we were talking about different men” when she met another sufferer. On a philosophical level, they might have been different people, but legally, it’s a murkier venture.

What The Man With A Thousand Faces hopes to achieve isn’t always entirely clear, but there’s great truth to be gleaned from the archival footage and the interviews. Most glaringly, the pain some of the women try to hide from the cameras is in their eyes. In many ways, the face humans hide from the world is also the one that refuses to lie.

The Man With A Thousand Faces premieres in the 32nd edition of Raindance.


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