Directed by: Bart Layton | 99 minutes | biography, documentary | Actors: Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O’Brian, Carey Gibson, Anna Ruben, Beverly Dollarhide, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Alan Teichman, Nancy Fisher, Ivan Villanueva, Bryan Gibson, Maria Jesus Hoyos, Codey Gibson, Anton Marti, Amparo Fontanet, Bruce Perry, Ken Appledorn, Phillip French
‘The Imposter’ is a documentary with a high film noir content in which the true and curious story is told of the 23-year-old French con artist Frédéric Bourdin, who pretends to be the 16-year-old disappeared boy Nicholas Barclay of the American Barclay / Cassidy family. from Texas. Frédéric is sickly looking for an ordinary childhood he never had and tries to be admitted to a Spanish boarding school. There, however, he is forced to identify himself, but he does not want to lose his real identity and therefore masterfully takes over the identity of Nicholas. By posing as a Spanish police officer, he has contacted various agencies in the United States to find out which children in the US are classified as “missing person”. A curious story because the clearly older and tinted Frédéric, of part Algerian descent, is mistaken by relatives, including the mother and sister, for their blond, blue-eyed son who disappeared just three years earlier.
The story of this particular scam is thrillingly served through a combination of interviews, dramatized acting, home videos and television images. In short, you could consider “The Imposter” as the better work of the countless “true story” narratives that we know from SBS6 and associates, in which, in addition to the interviews with “real people”, actors act out key scenes from the narrative. Contrary to these sensational television documents, “The Imposter” is not corny, ridiculous or amateurish, but what it has in common in terms of style is the exploitative element: the tragic story is served in a particularly juicy way.
And with that we immediately have to tackle the biggest shortcoming of “The Imposter”. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing selection of real life soap operas, non-fiction films and documentaries more popular than ever. So you would say that the public has a greater need for the facts, for the unfolding of reality, for the defictionalization and de-dramatization of stories. However, that is the question: all real life soap operas are linked by manipulative editing and documentaries such as ‘The Imposter’ are ultimately a construction of the filmmakers in which classic story and film techniques, to keep the audience captivated, still predominate. feed. The label “where happened” mainly functions as an extra bait. The makers of ‘The Imposter’ say they have tried to present the various versions of the story – because all involved have a somewhat conflicting interpretation of what happened – so that the viewer leaves the cinema with questions and can draw their own conclusions. . But isn’t it the intention of a documentary to provide the viewer with sufficient information so that questions can be answered? Isn’t it the moral duty of the documentary makers to delve as deeply into the subject as possible and strive for conclusive answers, instead of mystifying them? Isn’t the mystification and encapsulation of reality the domain of fiction?
While the story of Frédéric Bourdin, the Texan family and their missing son Nicholas gets all the space, Frédéric’s background remains underexposed. Why did he become a con man? He had a racist grandfather, his hand and foot were once crushed, presumably by domestic violence, and he also has traces of cigarette marks on his body. So he had a shitty childhood and has since tried to redo his youth in a less rotten way. At least, that’s the little we learn, but in fact, Frédéric’s life is just as interesting or perhaps more interesting than the story of the Texan family. Actually, “The Imposter” is already over when we hear that Frédéric is calling families all over the world from his cell to provide them with fabricated information about their missing relatives. And when Frédéric returned to France as a thirty-year-old man, how did he try to pretend to be a fourteen-year-old child? The story told here is in fact just one episode from the bizarre life of Frédéric, to whom an entire documentary can still be devoted.
It is not surprising that Frédéric tells his story so easily here: it is clear that the man needs attention and for a fraudster who is used to making up stories, the question is how sincere he is. In contrast, the members of the Cassidy / Barclay family make the most impression, especially because they have to tell their story as if they were experiencing it at the moment, so stripped of reflective commentary; what you would expect from people who are cheated and try to cover themselves up out of shame. And maybe they do, as the film suggests at the end. And that is precisely why it is a shame that the makers do not delve deeper into their motives: what is wrong with these people? Instead, the film focuses mainly on dramatizing the bizarre story, and at the end bangs into another shocking possible turn. In this way, “The Imposter” is somewhat like “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012) where the emphasis is also on the “too strange to be true” element and the viewer is ultimately left with questions about the motivation of the main character. Nevertheless, “The Imposter” is a must that will make you sit on the edge of your seat with excitement and wonder … Wonder because it really happened?