Sundance 2012: 'The Imposter' an Incredible Must-See-To-Believe Doc
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2012
Some might've heard this story before, about a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay who went missing in Texas in 1994, then was "discovered" years later in Spain. He was returned to the family, they believed it was him, an older, entirely different teen who spoke with an accent. But then they found out it wasn't him, it was a French man named Frédéric Bourdin who poses as kids, "to be loved". Or so that's what he claims in this doc. The Imposter, made by UK filmmaker Bart Layton, tells the story from both the family and Bourdin's perspective and it's incredible, one of those unbelievable true stories you just must see to believe.
The way Layton presents the story is part of what makes this such an engrossing and fascinating doc. From very early on in the film, since this odd story made national news back in 1997, we get to see Frédéric tell us his own story in Spain and how all of it happened, how he tricked everyone into believing he was this boy. Layton uses recreations with real actors that look like actual Hollywood-shot narrative segments that make this doc feel almost like it's a narrative fictional feature (I can definitely see an adaptation in the same vein as Catch Me If You Can, too). It was impressively shot, even the interviews with the family and Frédéric. It quickly becomes a captivating mystery-thriller that will put you on the edge of your seat right up to the end.
I'll admit that it takes a lot for me to get sucked into the subject of a documentary, not only great production values, but a great story that keeps unraveling as it continues. That is exactly what The Imposter does (and does very well), it opens the door on a compelling story about a man who, while seemingly a deceptive and demented individual, is still fascinating. As stated during the Q&A at the end, Bourdin is a pathological liar and lifelong imposter, nicknamed "The Chameleon", and although I was engaged in his story during the doc, can we believe anything he said? How much was a lie? Was the family really that clueless to this Frenchman claiming to be their son? It's a great documentary that starts up many intriguing discussions afterwards.
Others who've seen this have called it a truly "stranger than fiction" story, and it certainly is exactly that. I found myself in an enlivened, mesmerized awe when we'd learn something new about what was happening, or how he pulled this off, or what the family thought of him and their experiences, or how he deceived the FBI, the news, and pretty much everyone else out there. It's not until a private investigator starts looking into things that it all begins to unravel, and that's when we start to learn more about who Bourdin really is, whether it's all just a lie or not. It's titled The Imposter for a reason, as this is a film more about Bourdin than Nicholas Barclay, but is an incredible story and incredible doc anyway that you must see for yourself.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10