Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Madman Films
Now Showing

Truth is often stranger than fiction and there's nought as queer as folk. Both adages could be readily applied to Bart Layton's documentary, The Imposter, a fantastical true story about a missing boy and the boy who never was, and a family who were either traumatised by grief or something more sinister.

In 1993, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing from his small Texas town. In Spain in 1996, authorities detained a 16-year-old whom they believed to be the missing American teen. But was he? That's a no, and that's not a spoiler as The Imposter reveals very early on that the 16-year-old is in fact 22-year-old Frederic Bourdin, a French national of Algerian descent who doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to the blonde-haired blue-eyed boy he purports, in his thick-accented English, to be.

Just how this master manipulator came to convince not only the authorities but the family of Nicholas Barclay -- his elder sister travels to Spain to positively identify her brother and take him home with her; the rest of the family accepting the "boy" as their kin -- will have you simultaneously guffawing and scratching your head, as Bourdin explains his technique and thought processes, and the duped family (sister, mother, brother-in-law) their thoughts and emotions.

Throw in, too, the FBI agent who oversaw the repatriation of "Nicholas", initially falling for his 'too elaborate not to be true' tale of abduction by the military for use and abuse in a European sex slavery ring (no, seriously), and the Texan private detective who is convinced almost immediately (the ears have it!) that this boy is not who he claims to be, and mounts his own investigation.

It's at about this point that the film takes another turn, and I won't spoil that surprise for you needless to say that the sympathy you've developed for the family of Nicholas Barclay -- his mother especially, and in spite of their gullibility -- begins to waiver.

The Imposter is a film as much about the ability to deceive as it is the desire to believe; one can't succeed without the willingness of the other. And the "star" of The Imposter is Frederic Bourdin, a sociopath whose desire to belong, to recapture an idealised childhood and home life he never experienced, is his driving force. He's charming and funny in his to-camera confessions, but his "fuck the world, I only care about me" attitude reveals his heart of darkness.

Bourdin is by no means a Tom Ripley, lacking the necessary sophistication (and the capacity to kill to achieve his aims), but his ability to improvise on the fly, to convince others not of the truth but what they wish to believe, is a scarily impressive skill set which one can't help but begrudgingly admire whilst hoping never to experience first hand.

Bourdin makes The Imposter a fascinating story if not a great documentary. It's not a good sign whilst watching a doco to be thinking "this would make a great movie"; when The Imposter finished I was left somewhat unsatisfied.

We tell fairy tales to both entertain and instruct; The Imposter's preposterously true tale raises more questions than answers, and its lack of closure -- Bourdin may now be married with children and living in Paris, but Nicholas Barclay is still missing -- provides cold comfort rather than happy ever after.

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