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This is the documentary, of the many I saw during the Perth Revelation
Film Festival 2012, that has stuck to my memory, and the one that
fascinated me the most.
The documentary revolves about the vanishing of a 13y.o boy, Nicholas Barclay, for his home in Texas in 1993, to be found in Spain with an apparent amnesia six years later. What happens after the young man call the Spanish Police is the core of the film.
The movie mixes interviews with the protagonist Frédéric Bourdin, Nicholas' family, American FBI and Consular officials, and has very atmospheric re-enactments done with Spanish actors and settings narrating the events occurred in Spain. The story is build up like in a thriller, and it will keep you glued to the screen, wanting to know what is going to happen next.
Layton has given the documentary the tone of a mystery movie in the re-enactments, but also in the interviews through the use of the chiaroscuro, camera positioning, hues of the film, and the tempo and way the events are presented - everything serves to build up suspense and mystery, and make you doubt and question yourself. Is this a real documentary or a mockumentary? Are we being fooled? The story is fascinating and amazing per se, but the way it is presented, is marvelous from a cinematic point of view as lets the viewer munch on a few philosophical themes: self-identity, reality and perception of reality, the connection between emotion and perception, and the use of cinematic narratives in documentaries based on real events, among other things.
One of the main downs of the movie is that Nicholas' family is somewhat ridiculed and vilified for the sake of the storyline. After all, we need of good, bad, stupid and clever characters in a story to create an interesting film. In the first place they are portrayed as ignoramuses; however, they are a suburban family living in a poor area of the USA, with little or none education; you cannot expect much of any person grown in this social environment anywhere in the world. In the second place, they are ridiculed for failing to detach themselves from their emotions and see something really obvious for the spectator; however its a characteristic of human nature and behavior to attach emotion to our thoughts and to interpret what we see according to our own personal individual viewfinder. We do so, all of us, every single day, in our daily lives, so you cannot expect traumatized and emotional people to see things as clearly as we see them from our seat in the cinema. In the third place, the movie implicitly blames the family, by letting some of the characters doing so, for the vanishing of Nicholas, without providing any evidence for it.
Still, this is a terrific documentary. The less you know about the whole story at the beginning, the more you will enjoy it. This is a documentary that attracts people to the genre because reinvents it. A proof that a documentary can be amazing, intriguing, entertaining, and thought provoking.
I saw this film at it's European premiere last night at the Edinburgh
Film Festival and I was very surprised. The first 1/3 of the film is a
well stylized documentary but then this story, which goes from
implausible to downright absurd. If the story wasn't true, you would
find yourself thinking that the director was trying to string you along
and at the very end pop out and say "naw, I was just kidding". There
are so many parts of it the require you to suspend belief only to
remind yourself it was reality.
While there maybe no new information, the ability to portray complex situations from the perspective of the participant remind us all that truth and the human condition are relative. You are left with unanswered questions, doubts and just shaking your head. Well polished, well executed and well edited, there are few documentaries that can suck you into them and actually wonder what is next.
In the first couple of minutes of The Imposter, we hear a recorded call
with captions placing the call in time; then the film is rewound and we
hear it again. The Imposter is a fairly straightforward tale of
identity theft but a tale that needs this constant revision. Everything
one hears in its turn requires closer scrutiny. Bart Layton's triumph
is to follow each thread of the story through, only increasing the
layers of information when the tale demands it.
There's more to the composition than this of course. Layton's interviews are impeccably collated so that one has the feeling that at all times the individual telling their story is being honest, even when they might look a bit silly. It's also a great achievement to end with a greater mystery than those that tumble forward as the story rolls on.
Frederic Bourdin is the great draw of the show, as candid as Joe Simpson in Touching The Void. The editing helps make the point where others would have resorted to interpolated exposition. There's also a nice, unobtrusive soundtrack by Anne Nikitin which follows almost exactly the emotional temperature of the film. 8/10
I saw this film at the 2012 Edinburgh Film Festival. The film focuses on the story of Nicholas Barclay who disappeared from his Texas home in 1994. Three years later he's found in France and then re-united with his parents. But it's obvious he cannot be there son. He's an impostor; a 23 year old con-artist. The film explores the unravelling of this story through interviews and very well realised reconstructions of the events. Documentary recreations don't always work and can detract from the interviews but here they work very well.It makes for a strange and compelling film. A deliberation on the nature of truth and lies that had me completely gripped.
A 13 year old boy disappears from a small town in Texas, three years
later Police in Spain alert authorities in the US, against all odds it
appears that child has been found....or has he?
I watched this 'movie' not knowing very little about it, and after 10 minutes or so I was puzzled, is this a mocu-mentary or based on a true story? surely it couldn't be as the story was so bizarre!!
Filmed in the same style as the TV show 'Banged Up Abroad', part interview clips with the real people, part reconstructed key moments with actors, this is a quite astonishing story and well worth a viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On June, 13, 1994, Nicolas Barclay went missing. Last seen playing
basketball with his friends in San Antonio, Texas. There was no word of
his whereabouts for days, weeks, months, years until it was assumed he
would be missing forever, the search having long since died out. Then
the incredible happened. He was discovered in Linares, Spain.
Or was he? The Nicolas that went missing 3 years earlier had had blue eyes not brown and the new Nicolas had a french accent? This new Nicolas was actually Frederic Bourdin a 22 year old French-Algerian, with an addiction to and talent for deceit and fraud. Nevertheless he managed to fool the Barclay family, US embassy officials, the FBI and most of America, if not the world, into believing that he was indeed Nicolas Barclay. But one man had his doubts. A charismatic Texan private eye, Charlie Parker, originally hired to track down Nicolas for an interview with a local media company, noticed an irregularity between the two Nicolas's ears, which eventually lead to Frederic's discovery and arrest.
This captivating and chilling story is beautifully explored by the director Bart Layton. He blurs the boundaries between a documentary and blockbuster. Even though Layton allows you to be aware that Frederic is not the real Nicholas Barclay from the outset, he teasingly feeds you fragments of the story piece by piece from the perspectives of the family members, the officials and Frederic himself. The product is a gripping thriller, heightened by the knowledge that it is a true story and by the mesmerising stylised cinematography, including some eery moving portraits of the family members accepting an obvious stranger into their home. This is just one of the many striking images in this film that will stay with me for a long time.
Provoking questions about identity, human nature, society and national security, the Imposter our keeps you eager with anticipation while you bathe in the beauty of the images crafted by Layton. It's a brilliant film - one of the best thrillers, let alone documentaries, I have seen.
Considered a dead-cert win at the Academy Awards next year, Bart
Layton's documentary The Imposter has rapidly generated a great deal of
notoriety and acclaim. The quintessential 'stranger than fiction' tale,
it's sensational blend of archive footage, delicate reconstructions and
heartrending talking head interviews illustrate that, not only is
Layton a masterful, investigative reporter, but moreover a profoundly
Back in 1994, the blue-collar Barclay family from San Antonio, Texas, was left distraught after the disappearance of their 13-year-old son, Nicholas. Like any teenage boy, Nicholas was a cocksure kid, filled with energy, love for his family, and certainly wouldn't runaway from home for no good reason. Weeks turned into months, and eventually the case was abandoned by the police and press. Three years later, the local Texas police department receives an international call from Spain. On the receiving end is a character claiming to be Nicholas. Putting in a bogus story about how he escaped the clutches of a drug fuelled, pedophilic organization, the police think his story check out, and soon enough Nicholas' sister Carey jets over to Europe to meet her long lost brother. In front of police officials, she takes a good look and identifies him as the legitimate lost brother. Three years ago, Nicholas was a blue-eyed, spunky American teenager, now he's transformed into a dark haired, brown-eyed man with stubble and an irreplaceable French accent.
The Imposter, like it's central subject, is not the documentary you expect it to be. With many twists, contortions and moral judgements, your pretty much open-mouth and on the edge of your seat throughout the film's entirety. That's partly down to Layton's craft, particularly the Errol Morris-like interviewing technique which sees people gaze directly into the lens of the camera and, vicariously, straight at us. But, even more astounding, is the capricious performer that names the film. Frédéric Bourdin, a then 23-year-old man of French-Algerian descent, is actively impersonating Nicholas the whole time, convincing not only the state officials, but the abandoned boy's own mother. With a shrouded history as a homeless orphan thrown into the life of deception and petty crime, he longed to fit in and have a family of his own. When that opportunity didn't surface, he decided to steal Nicholas's own.
"How could he get away with it?" I hear you cry. That's something I'll leave for you to answer when you see this documentary. Suffice to say, Bourdin is an intimidatingly convincing, intelligent and charismatic figure. To the point where we sit back and reflect whether we could have been swung by his quick wit. Even if Bourdin is the great pretender, a new revelation in the film's final act suggests that the Barclay family are perhaps keeping up appearances of their own.
It may not be my favourite documentary of the year (The Act of Killing, if you were wondering), but The Imposter is the best psychological thriller I've seen in recent memory. It transcends the documentary stratum. A dauntingly universal account of a missing child and false identity, it's stupefying moments will leave you silenced whilst the movie plays out. But, as soon as the credits roll, you'll be talking about this exceptional movie for years to come.
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For me, this film came out of nowhere. I missed its cinematic run and
only came across it after it was featured in a copy of Total Film
magazine. The Imposter tells the story of French con artist Frederic
Bourdin, who manages to trick his way into a small town American family
in the belief he is missing family member of 3 years, Nicholas Gibson.
Many questions are asked, not all of them are answered. For instance, why would the Gibson's take a complete stranger into their house? Did they believe Bourdin was genuinely Nicholas or did they just want him to be Nicholas? Was there an ulterior motive to the families acceptance of this stranger among them, or were they innocent and Bourdin was just a very convincing liar?
Certainly looking from the outside in it's very easy to question the stupidity of the Gibson family for allowing this chameleon into their home and seeing how he managed to concoct so many lies and not get caught sooner. In fact, if it wasn't for the efforts of a private investigator and a suspicious FBI agent, Bourdin may still be living in the United States as Nicholas Gibson and no one would be any the wiser.
As we follow the story the mystery grows ever deeper. It's a brilliant feat by the director to be able to build such tension in a film like this, using facts and true life testimonies to build an unbelievable tale where we are completely none the wiser at any point during the film as to who is actually telling the truth.
For a documentary, The Imposter is genuinely breathtaking. Moving quicker than a Hollywood thriller and a thousand times more intriguing. This true story is both gripping and shocking and completely worthy of your attention.
There are far too few documentaries on general release so it's a rare
pleasure to sit in a dark screening room with six other people to watch
another example of bizarre real life unfold across the screen. The
Imposter is one of those documentaries where you sit there with the
sense of incredulity growing as every twist in the plot reveals itself.
It's not as jaw-droppingly absurd as the excellent Tabloid and it isn't
remotely funny, but it is a fascinating and compelling experience.
I'll qualify that; the story of The Imposter is fascinating while the manner in which it is presented to us upon the screen is absolutely compelling and worthy of the plaudits it has so far received, including a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival and a gong in the same category at the Miami Film Festival.
In San Antonio, Texas on 13 June 1994, thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three and a half years later, when his family's only hope was to find his remains and gain closure, they received word that Nicholas was alive and had been found in Spain. His elder sister, Carey, flew out to Spain to bring Nicholas home whereupon he unfolded a tale of kidnapping and abuse. However, blonde, blue-eyed American Nicolas had somehow become darker skinned, dark haired and French and now looked out onto the world through brown eyes. Yet the family still accepted him as their own! Told partly through interviews with the players including, incredibly, the imposter himself and dramatized interpretations of events, The Imposter gently reveals the events as private investigator Charlie Parker suspects Frédérick Bourdin's true identity and uncovers his history. It bears some resemblance to Le Retour de Martin Guerre (or Sommersby if you preferred the American adaptation) but there is no sign of altruism or a purity of intent from Bourdin. Just as you think you've understood the situation, another nugget of information widens the eyes even further until 'How could the family not know?' turns to 'Why did they decide not to know?' And still more questions arrive.
It's an incredible story where doubt is cast over the sanity and honesty of those at the heart of it. At one point, Nicholas' sister (the real one, not the version played by an actress) says with all sincerity, "Spain? That's, like, across the country!" It is plainly obvious we're not dealing with the brightest sparks. But being educationally challenged does not mean dishonesty is not a factor.
Director Bart Layton weaves the tale beautifully, never giving away too much in one go and his use of reconstruction blends perfectly with the genuine interviews. The use of real person and actor for each 'character' so often jars in TV documentaries leaving the viewer confused as to who s/he is watching on the screen. Here, Layton has cast perfectly and the dual appearances compliment each other, blending so it is neither noticeable nor important which version we are watching.
Star status is usually reserved for performers in feature films, not factual documentaries, but Bourdin is so relaxed, so matter of fact in the telling of his own version of events that he draws the viewer in and leaves us wanting to climb inside his head an know how his brain turns and how many teeth are missing from each cog.
The Imposter, though unlikely to enthuse as wide an audience as last year's Project Nim or Senna, is a bizarre, chilling, surprising and thoroughly enthralling 99-minute eye-opening experience.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Imposter" plays like a particularly good episode of "Unsolved
Mysteries," not just because actual documentary footage is interspersed
with reenactments, but also because the true story it tells is a
thoroughly absorbing combination of intrigue and suspense. As with all
good thrillers, fictional or non, what begins as a seemingly simple
crime eventually escalates into something much more complicated; it's
not so much about who has done something as it is about what has
actually happened and why. Truth is always a murky subject, mainly
because it depends entirely on perception. In this case, because our
sources of information prove to be unreliable, we can't even trust what
we perceive. On the one hand, we have a family who may know more than
it's letting on. On the other hand, we have the title subject, a
notorious pathological liar.
The film simultaneously documents and dramatizes the case of Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared in June of 1994 at the age of thirteen. When he was last seen, he was playing basketball with his friends in his native San Antonio. A street smart kid with a history of behavioral problems and a juvenile criminal record, he had run away before, and it was initially assumed that he had run away again. However, when his absence stretched beyond his typical window of one day, it was obvious that something more serious had taken place. It wouldn't be until 1997 that a new chapter of the case would begin. In October of that year, the police in Linares, Spain received a phone call from a tourist reporting a lost, frightened, apparently traumatized teenage boy with no identifying documents. He initially said little to authorities, but eventually, he told them he was an American named Nicholas Barclay.
He claimed he had escaped from a child prostitution ring and that his memories of his life back in Texas had grown dim. He also claimed that his originally blonde hair and blue eyes were chemically treated by his abductors to appear brown, and that his distinctly European accent and phrasing was the result of having been away from the U.S. so long. The Barclay family was soon contacted, even though no one in Spain could be sure of the boy's story. Nicholas' older sister, Carey, flew all the way to Spain to retrieve him from a children's shelter, and although she was heartbroken by the profound changes she noticed, she believed that he was in fact her long lost brother. Once embassy officials and U.S. federal agents were satisfied and he was sent back to San Antonio, the rest of the Barclays believed it as well. And so life would go on until March of 1998, when the persistence of a skeptical private investigator named Charlie Parker lead to the discovery that the person living with the Barclays was not sixteen-year-old Nicholas.
He was, in fact, twenty-three-year-old Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin, who began impersonating others as a child and by 2005 had assumed nearly forty false identities, three of which were of missing teens. The press has nicknamed Bourdin, now nearly forty, The Chameleon. After pleading guilty to passport fraud and perjury in San Antonio, he was sentenced to six years in prison. He would continue to assume identities in both the U.S. and Europe, until, supposedly 2005, at which point he vowed to retire. Although he's now married with three children, I take his vow about as seriously as I take his claim that he never knew his father, that his mother had tried to abort him and would eventually abandon him, that he was raised in a children's home, that he was sexually abused, and that he did what he did as a way to find the love and affection he never received. His history, coupled with his theoretically candid interview footage, leaves me with no reason to believe him.
But that isn't the end of the story. How is it possible that the Barclays were so blind to the obvious physical differences between Nicholas and Bourdin? Why were they so willing to believe his story and let him stay in their home? Could it be that they had something to hide? It eventually came to light that both Nicholas' mother and older half- brother were both in the throes of severe drug addictions, and that the mother failed the second of two polygraph tests when questioned about the disappearance. The half-brother was considered a person of interest, but his death in 1998 as the result of a cocaine overdose effectively stalled the investigation. To this day, the remaining Barclays deny any involvement in Nicholas' disappearance. And Nicholas is still listed as a missing person.
The reenactments, deliberately vague in the way they look and sound, feature Adam O'Brien as Bourdin, Anna Ruben as Carey, and Alan Teichman as Parker, the latter starring in a chilling segment where a corner of a relative's back yard is dug up in search of Nicholas' body. According to Wikipedia, these dramatized segments were precisely why a viewer who saw the film at the Seattle International Film Festival objected to its classification as a documentary. I think this person is too focused on labels; the simple fact is, a true story is being told. That the facts of the case are open for debate, that there has been no closure for the Barclay family, is something director Bart Layton cannot be held responsible for. "The Imposter" is about deception, of others and of ourselves, and as such, it makes for an irresistible cinematic experience.
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
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