In 1994, Nicholas Barclay, a blond haired, blue eyed 13 year old boy went missing in San Antonio. In 1997, brown haired, brown eyed, French serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin, 7 years older than Nicholas fooled several authorities and even more shockingly, the boy’s family by convincing them he was their missing relative, presenting the cover story that he spent the last three years in the captures of a child prostitution ring and suffered memory loss. The Imposter is a staggering, bizarre, frightening, documentary full of as much disbelief and suspense as most Hollywood thrillers.
The film seamlessly mixes interviews with Bourdin, Nicholas’s family and others involved in the case alongside archival footage and reconstructions to tell this murky story of deception with Bourdin providing a charismatic and unnerving screen presence talking to the camera. The film is constantly baffling due to the extraordinary story and leaving the cinema you’re still not quite sure how all the murky details (and they do get extremely murky) can be squared. If it were a piece of fiction you’d complain about too many plot holes but all the testimonies can’t be taken as gospel so keep you constantly questioning and absorbed. You get the feeling there’s an awful lot more to this story than what we’re being told by its witnesses and trying to second guess how it can all make sense makes for a sinister experience.
A perplexing and scary documentary, which provides few answers but undoubtedly revealing in the way it unravels its mystery and absurdity. Bourdin is an unnerving figure, even in 2005 after a six year stint in prison following the Barclay case he was found convincingly impersonating a 15 year old Spanish orphan in a French high school, despite being aged 29. He’s an insidious character and the story of ‘Nicholas’ which the film almost exclusively focuses upon is even more layered than first thought. It all adds up to a smartly cut, mesmerising piece of film-making.
Review by David Rank
The Imposter is out on 24th August in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 99 mins.
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.