MOVIES: The Imposter

“The Imposter” is Bart Layton’s fascinating documentary about the French imposter Frederic Bourdin.

Here’s the bizarre story: One day, 13 year old Nicholas Barclay disappears from his home in San Antonio Texas. Three years later, in Linares in Spain, the young man turns up at a police station, having been, he claims, abducted by a gang of pedophiles. His sister, who has never travelled before, rushes to be reunited with her brother and to bring him home to the warm embrace of a worried family.

But Nicholas Brady, now theoretically seventeen, is actually the twenty three year old Frederic Bourdin.

Nicholas is a blue-eyed, blonde American. Frederic is a dark haired (he dyed it!), dark eyed man with no real resemblance and who speaks English with a heavy French accent.

And as Bart Layton shows, he manages to pull off the con, seducing his entire family into believing that somehow the three years of abuse has changed him so much that the person they remembered is less real than the reality in front of them.

Here’s a family that’s so – understandably – desperate for the return of their relative that they engage in a sort of willing suspension of disbelief. And only after five months – and due entirely to outsiders – does the story fall apart.

Even then, as Bourdin languishes in jail, the story thickens. Bourdin accuses the family of killing Nicholas and using him as a handy cover for their murder. No body is ever found; Nicholas is returned in irons to France – where he was wanted by Interpol for multiple impersonations; and the mystery of how a family could be that deluded…or crafty… remains.

Bart Layton pulls off the very clever feat of stitching together archival footage, interviews with the principal protagonists (Bourdin is chillingly unemotional as he recounts the details of his deception) and seamlessly ‘real’ reconstructions, to make for a documentary that has the arc of a marvelously well-told story. We’ve seen lots of stories presented using a documentary style to heighten the effect of reality (Christopher Guest’s movies for instance). Here’s actual reality presented with all the drama of fiction.

A film about an imposter that’s itself a charming imposter of styles.

Worth checking out


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