Pretending to be a long lost son is a staple plot contrivance for movies, but to have the barefaced audacity to pull it off, for real, is well worth a movie, and well worth the price of a ticket. Frédéric Bourdin is the impudent anti-hero, who does just that, in The Imposter, a completely enticing documentary, that has wowed critics and audiences alike.
The story (all true remember) begins in 1994 when 13-year-old a blue-eyed, fair-haired Nicholas Barclay disappeared on his way home from basketball practice, in San Antonio, Texas. Three years pass with no sign of Nicholas, until utterly out of the blue, police in Linares (Spain) report that he’s turned up there having apparently been abducted by a paedophile ring. His sister promptly flew to Spain and immediately identified him as her brother, as did the rest of the family (despite his dark hair, brown eyes, thick accent, poor English and looking far older than 16). “Nicholas” is welcomed home, and arrives swathed in mystery and hidden under a cap; and hiding behind a scarf and dark glasses. After living with the Barclay family for almost five months, the story unravels, and “Nicholas” was exposed as a French 23-year-old called Frédéric Bourdin who specializes in imitating abandoned teenagers.
A series of chances together with an instinctive gift for manipulation and improvisation helped the Imposter to reinvent himself as an America schoolboy. Bourdin is the scariest kind of liar, the one who believes the lie himself, twisting fresh “truths” to paper over the lies. Bourdin is not an attractive character but, his addiction to deceit seems to be driven by some buried shame and hurt, and it becomes impossible not to empathies with him (at least a little).
It is The Imposter’s second chapter that raises questions about how people come to participate in their own deception and puzzling areas of modern American family life. The only real problem about The Imposter, is that it all seems too good to be true, especially the elderly Texas private eye who looks to have stepped right out of the movies. But the mixture of reconstructions, fresh interviews and archive footage confirm every twist of this improbable true story.You have no reason to leave The Imposter early, but the third act trumps everything that has gone before. With a brutally powerful final twist, which fades into ambiguity.
There have been several “big time” confidence tricksters, who claimed to be significant characters for instance a butcher from Wagga Wagga who claimed to be the missing heir to a British title and a fortune or Anna Anderson, who convinced many people she was Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter, Anastasia, generally assumed to have been assassinated with the Russian royal family. But the Imposter sets its sights on the very ordinary and is all the more potent for it.