It’s a modern-day cautionary tale: an attractive young single mum meets a man on Facebook, falls in love with him, and they have the perfect romance. He’s an immensely wealthy attorney whose family is part of the Danish elite. Casper, though, isn’t what he seems. Amanda’s dashing, kindly, blue-blooded suitor turns out to be a fraudster. She is only the latest in a long line of victims.
Nicole Horanyi tells Amanda’s story in her new documentary The Stranger. Her approach is unusual. In the film, all the main protagonists – with the exception of Casper – play themselves. (Actor Esben Dalsgaard portrays the conman.) Key moments in his deception of Amanda are reconstructed on screen.
The project originated as a podcast on Third Ear, in which Amanda Kastrup first told listeners how she was conned by a man she thought she loved. “I was very intrigued by Amanda’s strength and the way she tells the story, because it is embarrassing that you were fooled by a man you were deeply in love with,” Horanyi says of her main subject. “When I heard the podcast, I was thinking, could it be me?”
In the film, she explores what it feels like to be seduced by someone like Casper. Amanda wasn’t naive or stupid. Casper Rieper-Holm is a celebrated con artist in Denmark. He has targeted many other victims, assuming multiple false identities as he does so. According to the director, he is very perceptive when it comes to identifying the weaknesses, needs and dreams of those he preys on. “He makes a story and a character that fits those needs.” It isn’t just single women he fools. He has tricked lawyers and strung along cash-starved sports clubs. “It is men and women from all layers of society.”
The talented Mr Rieper-Holm isn’t just after money. His motives for his scams are unclear. In Amanda’s case, he appears to have convinced himself that he really did love her. With some of his other victims, he seems convinced he can help them.
Horanyi didn’t meet Casper, but spoke to him on the phone. He had spent a year in prison but had recently been released and was in Spain, looking for new victims. “People know him now in Denmark, so he travels to other countries.” He wasn’t interested in participating in the documentary. “He is a fiction. He doesn’t want to be himself,” Horanyi says of Casper. “He always wants to be the hero of the story.”
The Stranger (sold by Level K) has been a box office success in Denmark, posting 20,000 admissions. The doc also recently won the Doc NYC Viewfinders Competition.
Amanda has successfully rebuilt her life. She has a new boyfriend – one she can trust – and is running her own business. She didn’t lose money. (Casper had forged her signature and the bank therefore reimbursed the cash she had lost.) The Stranger doesn’t pretend to offer the truth about the con artist, but Horanyi has sought to represent Amanda’s memories as accurately as possible. “I was trying to communicate to the audience as clearly as possible that we were trying to do this as closely [as we could] to the truth as Amanda experienced it. This is told extremely subjectively [but] from her own point of view.”