Director: Bart Layton
Release Date: Out now
How well do you know your family members? And if one of them disappeared, how desperately would you want them back?
This is a documentary examining the 1994 disappearance of 13 year old Nicholas Barclay from San Antonio, Texas, and his apparent re-emergence in Spain three years later. This is also a documentary examining Frederic Bourdin, “the Chameleon”, a grown man who has impersonated hundreds of lost and abused children in the stated hope of finding some affection for himself.
The trailer for The Imposter makes it look like a psychological thriller, but the real story that emerges is far more shocking. Through interviews with Bourdin and the family of the missing boy, we follow the emotional roller-coaster that led our imposter to America, into the arms of a family who unquestionably accepted him. The only real “actor” in the film, director Bart Leyton purposefully lets Bourdin stare down the camera at the audience, allowing them hear how and why he did it, and to experience his utterly compelling charm.
This is no fiction, and the story that emerges is far more complex than fiction could dream of. The Imposter counteracts the naive idea that documentary is about the pursuit of an objective truth, and instead outlines that various subjective truths can sometimes be all that will ever be available. While each of the interviewees believes their own narrative, for the majority of the screening the audience trusts Bourdin the most.
The questions raised surround love and grief, truth and deception. When faced with an American family that fails to recognise that a stubbly French-Algerian has replaced their blond-haired blue-eyed child, can one be entirely convinced that they suspected nothing? And is Bourdin’s stated quest for affection a true motive, when the extreme nature of his deceptions means that this affection can only ever be ephemeral?
The Imposter is a carefully crafted dramatic film, allowing an audience to be engaged and astonished as further revelations unfold. Re-enactments occur beside home-videos. Good-guy Charlie Parker turns up to act the hero just as doubt is cast on everyone else. But this penchant for keeping to the rules of traditional movie-making in no way exaggerates or alters what is an incredibly haunting story, permeated by the ghost of the boy who wasn’t there, and the lies of the man who was.
In a Nutshell: A haunting representation of desperation and deception
by Sally Hayden