One of the things that movies are great at doing every so often is proving the old adage that real life really is stranger than fiction. The Imposter (2012) is a documentary that achieves that goal better than any film I have seen for a fair while.
For those that don’t know, The Imposter is the story of Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year old boy who goes missing from his San Antonio home. Actually most of the story is about Frederic Bourdin, the person who impersonates him, fooling everyone from the police to Nick’s own family. I won’t go into too many specifics aside from that though, because this is a film it is best to experience with limited knowledge of what takes place. Alone the journey of presenting this amazing tale and the facts that underpin it, the film manages to provoke many trains of thought, or at least it did for me. It repeatedly makes you put yourself in the situation of those people in the film and what they must have gone through. Losing a 13 year old son/brother, finding him again and then having him torn away again for example. It also made me ponder the fact that it was possible that whoever did kidnap Nicholas was able to watch this film, which is a chilling thought indeed.
Stylistically The Imposter uses a lot of re-enactments to drive the action. Re-enactments are a bit of a dirty word when it comes to documentaries which is mainly attributable to the ham fisted ones that are a feature of so many TV docos. But the ones in this film are quite good and don’t take you out of the world of the film, as well as being stylishly done and originally incorporated into the rest of the film. Bourdin is the central focus of the film, helped in part by the fact that he was able to record lengthy interviews and participate in re-enactments. He is an incredible person, but not in a good way. There is at various times a sense of pride in the way he managed to deceive so many people with scant (no?) regard for the pain that he was causing in people’s lives. Clearly a sufferer of some form of mental illness, Bourdin is also a victim to some degree. But his unremitting narcissism makes it rather hard to empathise with him for any length of time.
For much of the film your empathy will fall with Nick’s family as they were completely sucked in by Boudin’s horrific impersonation and deception. The filmmakers also call this empathy into question though as the latter half of the film examines the possibility that Nick’s family were involved in his murder and disappearance. The lengthy interviews reveal just how exceptionally calculating Bourdin was in his approach to deception. He unveils the science behind making a succession of people, who really should have known better, believe that he was Nicholas. Frederic is pretty shameless about what he has done. He smiles often throughout the film, even when proudly recounting some of the more heinous deceptions that he spun. Making people believe that his was repeatedly raped by a military sex ring is just one example that he was willing to go to any length to maintain his position.
The Imposter is a deeply sad film. It is hard to know exactly what has taken place. But at the very least a young boy has disappeared and quite possibly died. The people who did it have not been captured. And his family has no closure. Unless they did it, which is not particularly reassuring. If you haven’t already seen it, check this film out. Very entertaining, thought provoking and another example if you needed one in your life that truth is far, far wackier than fiction.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Thanks to Madman Entertainment, I have a copy of the film on DVD to give away. Comment below for two entries in the draw, retweet or share the details of this review on Twitter or Facebook for two entries and like the review here or on Facebook for one entry. Entries will remain open until midnight on Sunday my time. Open to all readers worldwide. Best of luck all.