by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD
This very recent Netflix documentary’s popularity exploded during the first week of its release, drawing my attention to a genre that has not previously interested me: true crime accounts. The Tinder Swindler turned out to be interesting, and, to make a pun, even arresting, in unexpected ways. It features accounts by three young women who describe their becoming enmeshed in a web of exploitative lies woven by a con man who rivals Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 biopic, Catch Me If You Can. The villain of the Netflix documentary, Simon Leviev, neè Shimon Hayut, seeks out targets different from those of Abagnale, and the documentary has an ironic element that the biopic lacked. Moreover, as documentary, the Netflix piece, unlike a biopic, is not emplotted, with an ending that provides narrative closure.
The documentary opens with an interview of Cecilie Fjellhoy telling of her addiction to the Tinder site in her search for love. When her swipe-right on a posting by Leviev is matched, she accepts his invitation to join him for dinner, and she is awed by lavish arrangements. He tells her that he is the son of the “King of Diamonds,” Lev Leviev, a billionaire Israeli Hasidic Jew. Simon, styling himself “The Prince of Diamonds,” flies her around the world, wooing her with expensive gifts and protestations of love. Soon, however, he tells her of complex business affairs requiring elaborate security arrangements that make it necessary for him to avoid using his credit cards requiring him to ask her to do him a favor: a loan of a few thousand dollars. Over time, Cecilie is lured into massive debt. Terrified and ashamed, she cannot find a way out of her predicament. In an effort to deter others from getting scammed she asks a newspaper to tell her story.
We next hear from a second victim, Pernilla Sjoholm. Leviev, using money from Cecillie, in tandem with his relationship with her, is regaling—and courting—Pernilla, employing the same tactics, making the same protestations, and ultimately requiring the same financial assistance.
Finally, we see an interview with Ayleen Koeleman, a long term flame of Leviev. Enraged by the newspaper accounts of Cecilie’s predicament and Liviev’s carryings on, she relishes describing how she scammed the scammer. Employed in the fashion industry, she deals with Leviev’s on-going pleas for financial assistance by offering to sell much of his extensive high-end wardrobe. But she keeps the proceeds for herself rather than remitting them to Liviev.
Ayleen also reaches out to the other two victims. Taking advantage of the publicity afforded by the newspaper coverage, the three open a Kickstarter account, hoping to recover some of the money they lost.
In a final twist, the newspaper’s ongoing efforts to track Leviev’s evasive peregrinations result in is arrest by the Israeli police, and an all too brief incarceration. He is said to be currently offering his services as a financial advisor.
The documentary closes with Cecilie’s telling us that she is still looking for love on Tinder. The irony is her failure to consider that the kind of intimacy she yearns for might require more effort and time than swiping right on potential Prince Charmings.
There is a report that Netflix may have a movie in the works. If we accept Aristotle’s definition of comedy as emplotted narratives in which the characters are such that the audience looks down on them and can relish rather than regret their discomfitures, that film will be a comedy