Worth a Watch? Absolutely. One of the most incredible stories, told in the most mesmerising way. The Imposter unwraps just the right amount of its mysteries, leaving us with the tantalising prospect of deciding for ourselves.
Bart Layton’s 2012 documentary, The Imposter, is remarkable for the way it makes a true – although almost unbelievable – story feel like a blockbuster film. Between the clever reconstructions, the moody lighting, the filmic shot selections (in its interviews) and a hypnotising soundtrack it weaves a strange feeling of uncertainty and drama more commonly associated with fiction. When added to this; the brilliance of the pacing, drip feeding information, and well-placed reversals and rebuttals from every angle of the event, it’s hard to experience The Imposter as a factual programme. At times the strangeness of its subject, Frédéric Bourdin, a 90s conman famed for assuming the identities of missing children, makes the viewer wish to praise a stellar performance from the man himself. Similarly Charlie Parker, a private investigator who discovered, and continues to investigate a truly bewildering case, is shot so beautifully he appears as a romantic theatrical figure.
Contrasting with the uneasy and intense Bourdin interviews, a fascinating man with a fascinating manner, are interviews with the family of Nicolas Barclay. Nicolas went missing in 1994 from his neighbourhood in San Antonio, Texas. Four years later the family were contacted from Spain to be told their son had been found. Despite both his eyes and hair, not to speak of his accent, not matching Nicholas’ Bourdin was seemingly able to fool not only his family but, as the story escalates to dizzying heights, the F.B.I and the American public.
The kernel of interest at the heart of this film, is the lines between illusion and reality, of living a life as someone we are not. Bourdin’s life is the perfect example of such a strange concept – the untold lie at the foundations of his lifestyle. This duplicitousness, and ambiguity is not simply presented to the viewer, instead they are forced to experience it. As we gleam valuable pieces of information from between the cracks of these character’s facades, the benefits of a story still in motion. This documentary, unlike most, is not dead. It is not a history, a neatly concluded presentation of events, but a confused, unsettled story. It has a continuing lifeas opposing facts clash in the mind of the viewer with a light-handedness which forces no external shapes or viewpoints onto events. The film closes with Charlie Parker continuing to dig holes, in our world.
Another reason for this strange style is in the angle of the film’s investigation. It does not try to relate to us the motivations of Frédéric Bourdin, which to the average person may seem inconceivable. The story isn’t in a box. It isn’t all tied up with a bow. It’s gloriously messy. And although this decision may make the film frustrating in its final throes – as we realise our thirst for truth and tidiness will go unquenched – it makes for an exhilarating experience. Much like the incredibly popular, Making a Murderer, The Imposter plays with our enjoyment of mystery long after the credits roll. It leaves us to lengthy conversations with everyone we know, who all have their own theories and versions of the story.
In fact my biggest issue with the film is quite how enjoyable experience it is, inviting us to play Colombo in its shady, alluring world. What is overlooked by the tone of the film, is the tragedy of those involved. For as much as the story invites hypothesis and scandal, a real boy went missing, and much of the strangeness could be a simple result of what a traumatic event this is. Similarly even the enigmatic Bourdin seems at time to hint at a real sadness, to a dark life that has led him to his actions. I worry that perhaps what has been overpowered by stylistic choices is the truth of the emotion. Having said this it is near impossible to fault Layton’s even-handedness with the material and as such perhaps our emotional response is less sure simply because it is less constructed.
Ultimately The Imposter is that rarest, and most lovable, of things a film so compelling and intriguing that you’re insistent everyone sees it (Mainly so that they can verify your leading theory).