British filmmaker Bart Layton came across a story that appeared more fiction than truth. A 23-year-old French-Algerian man had stolen the identity of a missing Texan boy, some three-and-a-half years after his disappearance. A master con-man, Frédéric Bourdin was in need of a new identity, being wanted by Interpol for his crimes and finding himself without any options left in Linares, Spain. A master manipulator, he posed as a missing teenager and was taken in by the Linares police after tourists phoned in their finding a scared and troubled boy. The events that occurred afterwards are outwardly shocking, and the story Bart Layton creates on screen of this real-life happening is absolutely intoxicating to watch.
Frédéric Bourdin was desperate, but he was also incredibly smart. His gift for quick thinking and shrewd tactics go far beyond the normal reaches of a human mind. In The Imposter, the viewer is provided with the story of Frédéric Bourdin taking the identity of missing person Nicholas Parker. Nicholas disappeared one afternoon after playing basketball with friends in San Antonio, Texas. The investigation into his disappearance quickly went cold; his troubled family never giving up hope they would see him again but not actively pursuing the search for Nicholas, either. Bourdin did not know of the Parker case, nor did he ever expect to assume his identity and be made a United States citizen; taken in by the Parker family with the belief that he was indeed their son. The fact that his hair was brown, not blonde, his eyes brown, not blue, and that he was clearly older than the age Nicholas would be, that of sixteen, was lost on the family. Partly because Bourdin did his homework, taking on specific marks and tattoos Nicholas had before his sister Carey came to get him in Spain. Everything did not make sense, but at the same time the family’s belief and hope that Nicholas had indeed been found prevailed any discrepancies. The Imposter‘s story would be all too simple if this were all true. The documentary appears to be showing the viewer how one man took advantage of an emotionally broken family longing to be reunited with their lost son and brother. But the Noirish twist to The Imposter goes far deeper than a simple bait and switch game played by a master con artist. The unbelievable side of this true story grows greater with every passing minute, and the incredulousness astonishing to witness. The Imposter is a documentary more interesting than a fictionalized story, and one that delves deeper into the complicated workings of the human psyche, emotional ties, and thought-out actions than one thinks possible.
Using the method of first-person interviews with Frédéric Bourdin, Nicholas’ family, a private investigator working on the case, and the government agents and medical professionals involved combined with stylized visualizations The Imposter weaves its story masterfully, holding back twists and turns to give way to reveals that are shocking and brilliantly executed. The structure is not based on case facts, so to speak, but the tellings of all those involved as they are relayed to the filmmaker during interviews. Everyone is shot in medium close-up as they tell their side of the events. The reenactments are then cut into their dialogue, as creations of their story, not necessarily the truth nor fictionalized accounts. The match cuts on dialogue from Frédéric Bourdin’s interviews and the re-creations make The Imposter more than a mere first-person accounting documentary, they create a character in Frédéric Bourdin that is hypnotic and frightening. His sociopathic tendencies made more clear by witnessing him, as the self he was then pretending to be Nicholas, weaving his web of lies. Those of the family are less odious until nearly the end, when a twist so great occurs that the entire story is turned upside down, your emotions twisted and torn, and the reality of what actually happened to Nicholas more unsettling than Bourdin’s actions.
All of the parties involved are given the time to share their part of the story, as told in a linear fashion. The only conclusive fact being what happened to Frédéric Bourdin when he was revealed to be a fraud, five months after living with Nicholas’ family. Herein lies the means for this thrilling real-life story. What appears to be true, and what is calculated prowess on the part of an individual is consistently a lined blurred by the first-person accounts of the story. The Imposter is a documentary film that aims to tell the story behind this strange and unusual case, but is never able to solve the mysteries it presents. The ending closes one portion of the story, but also invokes intrigue into the story as to what other secrets are being hidden from the documentarian and viewer, all the same. All of this making The Imposter a film that should not be missed, nor shall it ever be forgotten as an achievement in documentary filmmaking.
Director: Bart Layton
Featuring: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Codey Gibson, Bruce Perry, and Philip French
Produced By: Dimitri Doganis
Run Time: 95 minutes
Rating: Not rated
The Imposter is a chilling factual thriller that chronicles the story of a 13-year-old boy who disappears without a trace from San Antonio, Texas in 1994. Three and a half years later he is found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnapping and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? Any why doesn’t the family seem to notice these glaring inconsistencies? It’s only when an investigator starts asking questions that this strange tale takes an even stranger turn.
The stranger than fiction mystery, which features many twists and turns, is told in a cinematic language that combines documentary and stylized visualizations. Perception is challenged at every turn, and just as the truth begins to dawn on you, another truth merges leaving you even more on edge.
Theatrical Release schedule:
New York, NY: Landmark Sunshine Cinema, July 13th
Los Angeles, CA: Landmark Nuart Theater, August 3rd
San Francisco, CA: Landmark Theater, August 3rd
Berkeley, CA: Landmark Theater, August 3rd
Seattle, WA: Seattle International Film Festival, August 10th
Portland, OR: Cinema 21, August 10th
Minneapolis, MN: Landmark Theater, August 10th
Denver, CO: Landmark Chez Artiste, August 10th
Dallas, TX: Angelika Film Center, August 17th
San Antonio, TX: Santikos Bijou, August 17th
Houston, TX: Sundance Cinemas, August 17th
Boston, MA: Kendall Square, August 17th
Philadelphia, PA: Landmark’s Ritz at the Bourse, August 17th
Sacramento, CA: The Crest Theatre, August 24th