2012 is a little slow on documentaries. The best one I have seen this year was back in April, when I watched the rather brilliant Chasing Ice, a stunning documentary about climate change. But hearing (and seeing) the quiet praise going on for this festival favourite, I was tempted to go see the first project from London-based production company RAW.
The Imposter recalls the tale of Frédéric Bourdin, a Frenchman who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a missing 13-year-old boy from Texas, in 1993. His ‘reappearance’ brings the attention of the authorities, including the FBI, the media and local private investigator Charles Parker (especially when this person did not resemble a blonde haired, blue-eyed boy). Pretty soon, the truth comes out and so do the questions…
The thing is with The Imposter is that once you have read this synopsis, 2/3 of the film is pretty much unsurprising (many apologies!). Most of the film is seeing how Bourdin managed to fool authorities, as well as Barclay’s family, that he was this missing kid. Bourdin (who, by the way, looks like Laurence Fishburne with a lighter skin tone) conveys a certain smugness on camera – there is no empathy or sympathy as to why he pretends to be someone else; only his desire to ‘escape’ his identity, and how easily it came to him. From the conversations with the filmmakers, producer Dimitri Doganis and director Bart Layton, there is an underlying suggestive tone to his ‘good fortune’, opening up a darker side to this tale.
Even though the documentary dips into the initial emotional relief of Barclay’s family upon the reunion with ‘Nicholas’, it raises questions about how they really feel about this whole ordeal, making the viewer think twice. They do not seem to express anger or negativity towards Bourdin and their insistence on believing this person is ‘Nicholas’, amidst the obvious physical differences, is incredible – making the film all the more mind-boggling. A blatant implication of a story within the lies, so to speak.
Intermingling with archive home videos from Nicholas to reenactments on key events, Layton weaves an intriguing tale of emotional turmoil and deceit. If it wasn’t for Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice, The Imposter would be this year’s best documentary.