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The Imposter

Posted by martinteller on December 28, 2013

In 1997, a 23-year-old French man named Frédéric Bourdin, having bluffed his way into a Spanish youth home, claimed to be 16-year-old Nicholas Barclay.  Barclay had disappeared from his San Antonio home three years earlier and never been heard from again.  Bourdin concocts of a story about having been abducted by “high-ranking military” and repeatedly abused and raped until his “escape”.  Against all odds, the imposter manages to con not only the authorities but the family themselves, despite different eye color and a French accent.  How long can this charade last?

What a fascinating and bizarre story this is.  Director Bart Layton employs a style similar to Morris’s The Thin Blue Line, mixing talking head interviews of the real subjects with actors recreating the events as they unfold.  It gives the film a little extra dramatic heft, and helps make the story a glued-to-your-seat thriller.  Bourdin is a somewhat hypnotic figure, with Joaquin Phoenix-esque good looks and a sly charm that catches you off-guard.  He speaks frankly about his deceptions, which he was quite skilled at.  By contrast, Nicholas’s family comes off as rather dense (and somewhat provincial… the sister doesn’t know where Spain is, and is surprised that you can buy a Coca-Cola there).  How did they swallow Bourdin’s story so readily?  Is it simply a case of wanting to believe, or is there something else at play?  Layton raises questions with regard to the latter, but comes up with no firm conclusions.  Even with this thread left open-ended (and it’s likely just a red herring) the film satisfies with its many odd twists.

Where the movie falters is in explaining why.  Bourdin provides only the barest background on a troubled childhood, but we never get a feel for what makes him tick.  Why is he so obsessed with taking on false identities?  Where and how did it begin?  What is the psychology that drives him to escape from himself?  These are questions that should be explored in greater depth, but Layton seems too concerned with the details of the Barclay situation to ponder Bourdin’s strange — and decidedly risky — behavior.  It is nonetheless a riveting case, it’s just that I hoped for more curiosity about this enigmatic character.  Rating: Good (79)


2 Responses to “The Imposter”

  1. CMrok93 said

    Nice review Martin. It’s a fascinating documentary and all, but once the directors started to seem like they were glamorizing this one con man’s actions and lies, then I felt a bit irked by what I was seeing.

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