From “Inventing Anna” to “Norbourg”, these crooks who flourish on the screen

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By their audacity, their manipulation and their lack of scruples, scammers fascinate us as much as they repel us. a detail did not escape the cinema studios and digital platforms, who multiply the stories of scam inspirations from very real stories, from here and elsewhere. Overview of a successful phenomenon.

Who does not remember the Norbourg affair, this financial scandal that shook Quebec in the mid-2000s? The businessman Vincent Lacroix, then at the head of the Norbourg investment and fund management firm, had embezzled 130 million dollars from the pockets of thousands of small savers.

This incredible fraud, as we only see in movies, was precisely inspired by director Maxime Giroux and screenwriter Simon Lavoie. They made it a thriller telling the mechanics behind this scam and the flaws in the surveillance system, which was unable to stop it sooner.

Their feature film, title norbourg, will be released on April 22 at the cinema. At the top of the bill, we find the actors Vincent-Guillaume Otis and François Arnaud in the respective roles of Éric Asselin and Vincent Lacroix. Against all expectations, the story is not centered on the latter, more rather on the inspector and auditor Éric Asselin.

“It was Vincent Lacroix who found himself in the spotlight. It was he who was sentenced to 18 years in prison — and in fact just 3. Few people know that his right arm was pulling the strings. Very cunning, Asselin arranged his exit by negotiating his immunity while allowing the scandal to be revealed in broad daylight, ”explains Simon Lavoie in an interview, confident that he has long been inhabited by the characters of this fraud from home.

Skin scams

Scammers have fascinated audiences and fueled the cinematic imagination for a long time. We think in particular of Scammers (The Scammers1990), more Catch Me If You Can (Stop me if you can2002) et al. the wolf of Wall Street (The wolf of Wall Street, 2013). In addition, the trend has accelerated in recent times, has spread on digital platforms.

In February and March, Netflix unveiled several big productions of the genre, all inspired by real events, including some that have remained in the top 10 positions on the viewing charts for weeks.

Among them, fiction invent Anna (Anna’s Invention), modeled on the true story of Anna Sorokin, a young Russian who, posing as a German millionaire, extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from members of New York high society to pay for her life as a Princess.

The documentary The Tinder scammer (The Tinder Scammer), which tells the story of the Israeli Shimon Hayut, also attracted a lot of attention. This scammer found his victims on the dating app Tinder, where he posed as a billionaire gentleman with the alias Simon Leviev. He seduced them with grand declarations, gifts and dream trips, then demanded millions from them on the pretext that he was in danger.

There is also the documentary series bad vegan (Bad vegan. Scam on the menu). This tells the story of New York restaurateur Sarma Melngailis, who embezzled millions to achieve “eternal life”. Or the biographical series the to give up, on Disney+, about Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which turned out to be a multi-million dollar scam. Without forgetting We crashedon Apple TV+, because of the financial disaster at the WeWork departmental offices.

“Broadcasters have understood that this type of production attracts the attention of viewers,” notes Stéfany Boisvert, professor at UQAM’s School of Media. They put on our sent by morally judging these hustlers, while feeding our fascination with the extreme wealth and fame they have developed. »

Mme Boisvert regrets, however, that the emphasis is often placed on the princely lifestyle of these scammers: high-end hotels, designer clothes, chic restaurants, private planes, heavenly trips, luxury cars, etc. “There is a lot of sensationalism. The fame and wealth of crooks is exploited. »

Result: instead of being in condemnation of these reprehensible behaviors, we almost shout new idols, according to her.

For example, the luxury accessories and clothing worn by Anna Delvey — aka Anna Sorokin — experienced a sales boom following the release of the Netflix series. The young scammer, still in detention, continues to pay her share to feed her Instagram account, which has experienced a link of popularity, and she is preparing a documentary on her life. As for Shimon Hayut, free as air, he has also experienced a resurgence in popularity on his social networks since the broadcast of The Tinder scammer.

Mirror of our society

More how to talk about these stories without falling into glorification? “You shouldn’t sell dreams. We must show the consequences of fraud, the suffering of the victims, give them more of a voice,” argues Professor Boisvert.

“Following negative heroes comes with ambiguity and moral responsibility,” acknowledges Simon Lavoie, who wrote norbourg. Eat Mme Boisvert, the essential judge to leave a place for the victims so as not to fall into the glorification of the “bad guys”. On the other hand, for the public to believe the story and understand it, it was necessary, in his opinion, to show how the money embezzled by Vincent Lacroix was used in restaurants, strip bars, unlimited alcohol or all-inclusive trips.

And to those who wonder about the relevance of adapting these stories of fraud to the big screen, Mr. Lavoie replies that there is a “duty of memory” there. “We have to show the dark sides of our history, show that it also happens in Quebec, this kind of fraud. We must not forget and remain vigilant. »

“In conversation, it is aware of the population. These stories show how wealth, visibility and recognition are valued in our societies, so much so that some go so far as to lie, deceive, defraud to get there,” adds Green wood. “It also shows how economic crimes are still invisible and poorly punished. »

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