Inventing Anna and The Tinder Swindler are the latest additions to the pantheon of scam exposés. Each revolves around protagonists who are cunning, materialistic and deeply unlikeable but nonetheless manage to successfully inflict financial and emotional havoc in their wake. Inventing Anna is the fictionalised account of Anna Delvey, the pseudo- German heiress who traversed the upper echelons of New York Society in the mid-2010s and was convicted in 2019 for grand larceny after defrauding major financial institutions, hotels and friends. The Tinder Swindler tells the story of Israeli conman Simon Leviev who used Tinder to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from women to support his precarious, gaudy lifestyle.
Neither are exceptional cinematic feats, The Tinder Swindler being the most underwhelming of the two. Its dramatics fail to mask a mediocre narrative, and rather than rousing sympathy I found myself in disbelief at the naivete of the characters. To an outsider his grift is conspicuous; his tinder profile resembles what one might expect of a Dubai influencer, with all the trappings of wealth and a meticulously curated persona. Upon meeting the women he inordinately overwhelms them with grand gestures of affection and generosity and each relationship progresses rapidly and primarily online. Such blatant warnings seem to go unnoticed amidst the yearnings for love, connections and luxury. He then exploits their trust by claiming his status and wealth has endangered him, pressuring them into loaning him significant sums of money and credit cards. The digital arena is central to his ploy, it allows him to slip in and out of their lives without the realities of physical proximity. It also ironically bolsters his claims: one of the women googles him after he claims to be the son of Russian- Israeli diamond oligarch, Lev Leviev, and is reassured by articles and his instagram profile. These are of course farcical, he has anticipated interrogation of his digital footprint, and actually comes from a decidedly modest family. There is a sort of comic symmetry to it all, in appealing to the materialism of his victims he is able to acquire the means to engage in that materialism himself. Perhaps more interesting than the nature of his fraud is the extent of it, what initially seems like a one off scam quickly becomes an international, multi million dollar ponzi scheme. Despite this impressive resume Leviev fails to come off as particularly charismatic or shrewd, he is mostly relentless, ever-committed to his persona even when on the brink of arrest.
Inventing Anna is disjointed, long, and often verges on histrionics to the point where it undermines what is otherwise a complex, compelling story. The introduction of the subplot — the emotional afflictions of an investigative journalist is bizarre in that it obscures the thematic focus but adds little in the way of substance. Each episode focuses on a different victim of Anna’s deceit, and what emerges is a complex web of artifice and denial. Anna is consistently abrasive and shameless, but simultaneously malleable – moulding her persona to the values and tastes of her prey. However varied these characters are, they all seem to be cut of the same moral cloth, Anna’s projection of wealth and status is enough to shroud them of their better judgement. As with Leviv, she comes from humble beginnings, born in a working class satellite town near Moscow, and later moving to North Rhine-Westphalia with her family. Her story thus emerges as an interesting commentary on class mobility in which extreme self- fashioning becomes the currency of a perverted meritocracy. This is the central tenet of the contemporary scam narrative, and perhaps why the genre is so engrossing – hustling is hardly a new phenomena but this rendition of it seems to luridly exaggerate the artifice and exploitation of neoliberalism. In an era of unprecedented wealth inequality and precarity, merit carries little weight, one must be lucky or seemingly marchevelian in their pursuits to succeed. Anna’s penetration into the echelons of wealth are contingent upon an awareness of this, and the show effectively demonstrates how subtle gestures and cultural capital are necessary for this world to open up to her. The superficiality and vanity is inundating, endless montages of her shopping and luxuriating accumulate throughout the episodes but there seems to be little interrogation of these more interesting questions.