Review of The Imposter directed by Bart Layton
This is the best documentary I’ve seen this year. It’s a fascinating story told in a unique style. This is a story that would be impossible to believe if it weren’t true. A down on his luck Frenchman, whose entire life seems to have centered around steeling or faking the identities of others, claims to be a child missing from the U.S. He makes a claim to authorities in Spain that he had been abducted and taken to a foreign country where he was tortured and sexually abused. So the authorities contact the missing child’s family and the child’s older sister flies to Spain to retrieve him.
Now the Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, bares no resemblance to the child, Nicholas Barclay, who had been missing for three years. But using very scant little information about the missing child, such as the color of his hair and a tattoo, and acting withdrawn and confused, he convinces the sister upon her arrival that he is indeed her missing brother. How does he accomplish this unbelievable deception? The film takes you through the entire story step by step from its inception till its unraveling.
When I first heard about this story, I didn’t believe it was possible for anyone to make such an error about someone as close as a son or brother or family member. And a lot of other people apparently came to the same conclusion and decided that the only explanation that anyone might have for making such a mistake is that it wasn’t a mistake at all, but an attempt to throw authorities off the trail regarding the real truth about the missing child. In other words, if the child is here he isn’t missing anymore, is he? That is an intriguing premise that runs throughout this story. I’ll get to my opinion in a minute.
One of the unsettling things about this film is that it would not be possible without the participation of the man who perpetrated this deception. He not only walks the viewer through the story, revealing his thinking at every step, but he also reenacts large portions of the story. Only after listening to him tell and act out his story, in contrast to the stories of the family members who were duped, do you get a sense that perhaps this actually did happen just as it was first reported.
While Frédéric Bourdin is a natural-born story-teller, and, at first, you feel a little sympathetic to his plight, in the end you realize that he is a con man who has no soul. He is a psychopath.
So what do I think is the truth about the family’s involvement? After listening to the sister and mother, I believe that they really did believe it was their missing family member. I also believe that the drug addicted brother was involved in the child’s disappearance.
Don’t miss this one.