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film review

Toronto conman Albert Rosenberg convinced banks, art galleries, elite investors and his family that he was a sophisticated, successful tycoon.CBC

  • The Talented Mr. Rosenberg
  • Directed by Barry Avrich
  • Written by Barry Avrich and Courtney Shea
  • Classification N/A; 90 minutes
  • Premieres Oct. 21 on The Passionate Eye, CBC, 9 p.m. EST; streaming on CBC Gem starting Oct. 21

Critic’s Pick

The summer of the scammer may be in the rear-view mirror – so long, Anna Delvey, Adam Neumann, Elizabeth Holmes and, yes, even you, Mr. Tinder Swindler (for now) – but the lurid pull of the long con remains. Which means that now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with Toronto’s very own master manipulator – or at least that’s the portrait painted of Albert Rosenberg in this zippy, tidy new expose from prolific documentarian Barry Avrich (Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art).

While The Talented Mr. Rosenberg’s title character might not be quite as venomous (certainly not as murderous) as a Patricia Highsmith creation, Avrich and co-writer Courtney Shea still deliver a villain here so wildly detestable and deluded that he seems a creation of pure fiction. But no, there is the real-deal Albert (sometimes known as Alan) onscreen, justifying his life as one of Toronto’s most despised creations.

A well-dressed gentleman with the gift of gab, who continues to haunt the city’s old-money Yorkville neighbourhood, Rosenberg is described by various talking heads – including law enforcement officials, betrayed lovers, ashamed investors and even one of his own daughters – as a kind of triple threat: a man with expertise in romance, art and investment fraud. Or as one of Avrich’s interview sources puts it best: “He’s the Typhoid Mary of fraud. He can’t stop infecting the world.”

Somehow, Avrich managed to persuade Rosenberg himself to sit down for a series of one-on-one interviews. Perhaps the star subject felt that he could simply charm himself out of the more unsettling accusations being thrown his way. But the end result, which ranges from head-slapping self-aggrandizement to genuinely testy frustration, instead reveals a squirmy bit of miscalculated foolishness.

Albert Rosenberg sits down for his interview with filmmaker Barry Avrich.Courtesy of Melbar Entertainment Group / Hot Docs

Rosenberg’s decision to defend himself in front of the camera is almost such a bewildering move that you begin to wonder how he might have possibly fooled anyone. But that’s ultimately for the courts to decide.

While Avrich certainly shines a bright, burning spotlight on Rosenberg’s character (or lack thereof), ultimately the film is more concerned with the art, not the artist, of deception – and why we’re so often eager to buy a story too good to be, well, you know. The truth, it hurts.