The Imposter (15)

Directed by Bart Layton
Screening at FACT from 24th August 2012

Review by Joe Coventry

What a tour-de-force this breathtaking documentary turns into. A charismatic and camera engaging anti-hero confidently and without contrition steals the show, driven by bare-faced lying and desire to be a part of a normal family life denied him from birth.

In this endeavour he is abetted by extraordinary luck and bureaucratic organisational wish-fulfilment, the positive feedback loop setting in train an unstoppable juggernaut of gripping ambiguity and suspense.

These are the bare facts: In 1994, thirteen year old Nicholas Barclay does not return home from a routine day out. A grieving family has been searching for over three years when an incident in Linares, Spain impacts on their fruitless and lonely ordeal. Police find a youth with no ID in a phonebox sheltering from the rain (Frederic Bourdin). With well-practiced artifice and evasion of direct questioning he eventually finds sanctuary in a children's reception centre. Here too, attempts are made to find out who this individual is but continued prevarication continues until the authorities threaten more extreme measures.

As told by the imposter himself, who is bizarrely allowed to contact American police and the US National Bureau of Missing Children, he manages to obtain a grainy black and white fax of a teenager who he says he has under his supervision and a cross-continental scam is born. It is from here that the criminal becomes the exponential product of his own crime and once the event horizon of the unfolding black-hole is reached a mental universe will implode in the distorted space-time continuum that ensues.

Against all odds 'Nicholas Barclay' is returned to his bewildered family after his sister (Carey Gibson) attested that this was indeed her brother after flying out to be re-united with him. Having overcome Spanish Court interrogation and US Consul approval despite his anomalous French accent, twenty-three years of age, brown eyes and black hair he is welcomed as the would be sixteen year old cherubic blond haired blue-eyed epitome of American youth whose identity theft he has spectacularly pulled off.

Blind acceptance and wish-fulfilment had employed a big part in the deception as mother (Beverley Dollarhide) embraces the hoodie-clad and sunglasses-wearing lost son back into the fold in Texas with routine FBI immigration clearance a formality.

Big news on TV, Bourdin continues to mesmerise; enthralling chat show hosts and audiences alike with tales of orchestrated child vice rings implicating high-ranking military by night and big-eyed high school girls on the yellow bus by day, his celebrity status soars.

Is it all to good to be true?

Review by John Owen

The Imposter is a brilliant, concise and gripping real life mystery that leaves a sting with a twist in the tale, just as in the case of Nicholas Barclay: a 13-year-old Texas boy who returns after having been missing for 3 years - or does he?

A serial criminal imposter known to French Police as “The Chameleon” explains in front of the camera that somehow he is the victim of the piece, not the villain he has been cast as. Looking remarkably confident as he assumes the role of the long lost, much missed son whose family want so deeply to re-embrace back into the fold - or do they?
His ploy gains sympathy and a fair hearing. He says he was kidnapped by military men before being tortured, raped and threatened with death until he escaped, only to be rescued by the goodwill of strangers. All of this he has set up and arranged himself, a brilliant con artist, and hoaxer - but why? What is his motive?

With a deep and dark side to the plot slowly unravelling before your eyes, this disturbing yet enthralling film gives you an insight into the mind of Frédéric Bourdin; an unloved boy whose Algerian father was hated by his son’s racist and wholly unsympathetic grandfather. Frédéric is a disturbed man with the personality of a machine, a philosophy that equates to the following statement: “Why should I care to worry about who I’m harming or affecting through my actions?”

We meet the family and the plot thickens as their tale comes to pieces, they seem to be colluding with this pretender; they almost seem to want him to be their new son. Why? A private eye called into the story to make a TV film of the remarkable case is unconvinced he is the real Nicholas and spots differences in their ears as a clue to the real identity. It seems the family have more to hide than they want to tell.

The story is totally gripping, deals with emotive issues of power being abused, trust destroyed and human beings given a raking over by the authorities in the search of the truth. With no clear answers to all the questions posed.

Go see it and prepare to be confounded, confused and shocked but most of all, entertained.

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed