Review: Trust Me
by Marta Bałaga
- Emil Trier takes on the “professional fraudster who does it for pleasure” and leaves you hooked on a lie
Waleed Ahmed has been called many things, from "Norway’s Mark Zuckerberg" to "Justin Bieber fraudster" and "his own worst enemy." He has claimed to have invented the solar-powered battery charger, then to own the exclusive rights to Justin Bieber concerts in Scandinavia. There were stories circling around about him hanging out with Ted Turner and sending gifts to Barack Obama. He was, in short, a fraud.
His downfall was a mess of such epic proportions it would be impossible to look away – not that anyone has to, thanks to Emil Trier’s entertaining doc Trust Me, world-premiering in the Nordic:Dox Award section at this year's CPH:DOX. Ahmed’s story is weird, that much goes without saying, but it’s understandable. There is a whiff of Elisabeth Holmes here and other bright young things dreaming of wearing their own identical black turtlenecks one day; ambitious, hungry and not quite willing to wait, spinning the media narrative so well that these journalists don’t even know what hit them.
"Sometimes, we just Google things," disarmingly admits one of them here, calling his early reporting on Ahmed’s "achievements" his "biggest blunder." But all mea culpa aside, people just want to believe the scammer sometimes. They want to believe in a story about holidays in Dubai, where batteries kept losing their charge, rather than the one about a guy ordering stuff from China and sealing the deal on a napkin at McDonald’s. If, as Ahmed’s former business partner points out, it’s hard to change the story once it’s told, it’s also because some know how to keep the fairytale alive. At least for a while.
There are some elements here that feel familiar, the tale of yet another immigrant kid who "wanted to do something big," who wanted the money to buy these Vuitton sneakers or to follow a girl he fancied to her prestigious school, fake acceptance letter in hand. It’s almost as if Ahmed took advantage of his country’s guilty conscience, developing connection after connection using the fact that others felt good about acknowledging the success of someone from an underrepresented background and his "politically correct" ideas.
While Trier keeps his distance, showing up in the film looking perpetually preoccupied, some of his interviewees can’t hide some admiration for the guy who tricked them all with a smile. He was "a professional fraudster who does it for pleasure," says one, but while it would make for a nice, breezy story, Trier seems to be making a film about compulsion instead. Which is not to say he doesn’t have an eye for some occasional hilarity, like when he points out the fact that grown men just can’t say no to giant portraits of themselves. In Trust Me, he shows someone who can’t help himself, who can’t stop. Perhaps because, as some painful secrets come up, he finally feels in control. Or maybe it’s all a part of a long con.
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