Director: Bart Layton
Cast: Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O’Brian, Carey Gibson
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release: August 24th
In 1994, Nicolas Barclay, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, disappeared from his hometown in San Antonio, Texas. Distressed, his family canvassed the town with missing person posters and appealed to local law enforcement for help. The blonde, blue-eyed Nicolas had already had several run-ins with the police. With no evidence of foul play and no leads the authorities classified him a runaway and his name was added to the missing persons register. His family lived in hope, certain Nicolas would return. Four years later it seemed their prayers had been answered. A phone call from a tiny village in the south of Spain informed them Nicolas had been found. They could hardly believe it.
In truth everything about Bart Layton’s The Imposter is hard to believe. This is what makes it so compelling. Were this a work of fiction the film would be deemed too preposterous to be palatable, and yet, despite its documentary credentials, there is as much suspense, deception and intrigue here as any narrative film. While Layton deserves much credit—the film is incredibly cinematic—The Imposter’s tone, style and structure is largely dictated by its subject; the chameleonic Frédéric Bourdin. A dark haired, brown eyed French national who—at twenty-three years of age—successfully assumed the identity of a missing American teenager.
In Bourdin Layton has found an unreliable narrator as complex and entertaining as The Usual Suspect’s Verbal Kint. A master of self-deception he appears to demonstrate remorse only to counter quickly with a smug smile to camera. The series of extraordinary events leading to his transformation into ‘Nicolas’ really need to be seen to be believed, and it paints the Spanish authorities, FBI and US Embassy in anything but a good light. Indeed Bourdin seems as bewildered as the audience that his deception should for so long go undiscovered.
Layton and his editor Andrew Hulme (The American, Control) structure their film like a thriller while Lynda Hall’s (Dreams of a Life) traditionally shot testimonials are interspersed with Erik Wilson’s (Submarine, Tyrannosaur) highly cinematic re-enactments. Annie Nikitin’s suitably suspenseful soundtrack echoes the narrative’s myriad twists and turns. This intelligent juxtaposition of documentary and narrative film techniques serves to bring the viewer into the minds and memories of its cast. Though the effect may be construed as manipulative, Layton has argued that this manipulation only serves to mirror Bourdin’s own manipulative nature. Of course he has a point, but The Imposter flirts frequently with genre and while the film is undoubtedly entertaining it raises more questions than it answers.