French documentarian Sonia Kronlund embarks on a global search for a serial love cheat

The Man With A Thousand Faces

Source: Pyramide

‘The Man With A Thousand Faces’

Dir/scr: Sonia Kronlund. France/Poland. 2023. 90mins

French filmmaker Sonia Kronlund had a friend who fell in love, only to discover that the potential man of her dreams had been secretly seeing multiple women at the same time – and inventing a different persona for each. That friend’s feelings of betrayal inspired The Man With A Thousand Faces, which speaks to this inveterate scammer’s other girlfriends in an attempt to understand the man who conned them all. This entertaining documentary touches on a universal desire to reinvent oneself — to live different lives — but eventually changes course once Kronlund goes in pursuit of a direct confrontation.

The documentary’s tone is one of healing — with a little desire for payback, too

This is Kronlund’s second documentary feature after 2017’s The Prince Of Nothingwood, which premiered in Cannes Directors Fortnight and went on to wide festival play and a modest theatrical release. The Man With A Thousand Faces now screens at London’s Raindance Film Festival after opening in France earlier this year. Documentaries about con men who trick their lovers — such as The Tinder Swindler or Love Fraud — are always a popular subgenre, even if this is a rather modest, low-stakes picture. Still, the premise is enticing enough to attract further festival play.

Filmed in France, Poland and Brazil — just some of the countries where this man, whom Kronlund dubs ‘Ricardo’ (one of the many names he used) had girlfriends — the documentary spends the first half of its 90-minute runtime getting to know several women who dated him, all of them then unaware of the others. Ricardo used different names with different women, and he also lied about his profession. (With one girlfriend, he was an engineer. With another, a surgeon. Sometimes he said he was Portuguese, but he also claimed to be Argentinian.)

The girlfriends — some of whom requested anonymity, prompting Kronlund to cast actors to read their words during on screen interviews — admit to a wide range of emotions, from shame to anger, but what binds them is their curiosity as to who the real Ricardo might be. In the second half of The Man With A Thousand Faces, Kronlund hires a detective to help her find Ricardo, leading to a face-to-face meeting.

Kronlund proves to be a sympathetic figure in her conversations with these jilted girlfriends, all clever, accomplished individuals who nonetheless were fooled by Ricardo’s romantic patter. He may not have been physically abusive, or stolen anything from them — although he did borrow money from each girlfriend in order to pay another one back — but the deception still stings. Each woman felt she was special in Ricardo’s eyes, the illusion shattered once one girlfriend finally became aware of another, knocking down this house of cards.

Featuring a breezy, intimate approach, the film never drills down on the subject matter’s darker themes, such as the pathology of chronic manipulators and liars, instead measuring the impact Ricardo had on these women. Perhaps the most affecting of Kronlund’s interview subjects is Marianne (played by Aurelie Gasche), who had Ricardo’s baby. The Man With A Thousand Faces is short on scenes of tear-jerking anguish, though, focusing more on how these girlfriends find solace in knowing they were not alone in being duped. (Additionally, Kronlund begins the film with voiceover that relates her own experiences in toxic relationships, expressing solidarity with her subjects.) The documentary’s tone is one of healing — with a little desire for payback, too. 

In fact, Kronlund goes on a search for Ricardo in par  to offer some small measure of vengeance for these women. The filmmaker eventually tracks him down, and while it would be unsporting to reveal what happens, let it be said that her camera does capture what makes this mystery man so charming — a sensation quickly contradicted by what we have come to know about him. (His penchant for randomly mentioning dead or coma-induced parents as a means to get out of responsibilities is especially shocking.)

Those hoping for a cathartic showdown with Ricardo may be disappointed by the final stretches of The Man With A Thousand Faces, which are amusing if a little underwhelming. But Kronlund ultimately, and wisely, chooses to close her documentary on the women, not the man. As captivating as Ricardo’s deceptions might be, her loyalty is to her subjects — and their desire to put his many faces in the rearview mirror.

Production company: Chaz Productions

International sales: Pyramide, 

Producer: Elisabeth Perez 

Cinematography: Zara Popovici, Alexander Nanau, Filip Drozdz, Julien Poupard

Editing: Sophie Brunet, George Cragg