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Bruce and Me
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by Laura Kyle

"An enthralling study of a man who's made a life out of white-collar crime."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL: A conman teaches his daughter how to obtain fake identities and fool authority – that’s the stuff of good Hollywood movies right there. But it’s the stuff of great documentaries.

Bruce is a quiet, gentle, amiable man who refused to pay taxes to the American government after Vietnam and makes a living off stealing from corporations and banks. One period in his life, he stole over 30 VW Beetles, all from a car lot – not from individuals, and gave most of them away. His wife tired of his outlaw status and fell in love with a Buddhist artist, leaving him and daughter Oren in the states.

Director Oren Siedler is Bruce’s grown daughter and she would hardly be considered an objective observer of her father, and yet she is – because she has the same number of questions for him that the audience does and even refers to him by his first name (though it's probably one of his dozens of aliases).

Siedler’s mother thinks Bruce is a psychopath; her grandmother (Bruce’s mother) thinks he’s a failure; her potential stepmother (Bruce’s Cuban girlfriend) is more than 10 years younger than her and seems to only want Bruce for his money and gifts (even Bruce admits she’s a “gold digger”).

So who is this handsome, aging con artist? Bruce can’t quite say he truly loves anyone, at least in the normal sense of the word, on the account of his lack of emotion (a psychological detachment that began before he was even aware of it, he says). And he has a strangely stoic aloofness about his sensational life, which is probably part of the reason he welcomed his daughter and her handheld camera.

Bruce is thoughtful and caring, watching over his 97-yr-old mother – and yet, there’s a certain self-absorption that can’t be denied. When Siedler asks him about what he felt of the traumatic events with authority she experienced because of his ways, he admits he never really thought about it. And the moviegoer begins to see that maybe he wasn’t capable of really thinking about it.

Ultimately, Bruce is a rebel – but not the kind that intends to be, he just honestly doesn’t have much regard for society and its laws.

Because of Siedler’s invested interest in learning about her father, Bruce and Me is actually a film about parents and accepting them for who they are and who you are, as a result. There’s not a total satisfaction that one can draw from Bruce and Me, because Bruce is such an elusive mind and personality, that’s what Siedler must learn to cope with.

Bruce and Me is totally absorbing and also surprisingly funny at times, and I’m thankful for Siedler’s ability to turn the cameras on her father and herself.

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originally posted: 10/24/05 02:54:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
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