The Imposter (2012)
The Imposter, by the British documentarian Bart Layton, tells the story of how a 23-year-old, brown-eyed, dark-haired, half Arabic Frenchman in order to avoid being evicted from an orphanage in Spain posed as the blond, blue-eyed, fair-faced Nicholas Barclay, who had disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas as a 13-year-old four years prior – and ostensibly managed to deceive officials both in Spain and the United States – as well as Barclay's entire family whom he lived with for months. A story as absurd as this would have made for a ludicrous screenplay that no one would have bought into, but armed with the truth and some remarkable interviewees, Layton tells this story with dedication and creates a film which is as dumbfounding as it is psychologically fascinating.
At the centre of attention is the imposter himself, named Frédéric Bourdin, now in his late 30s, but with a beguiling command of the camera and the conversation – which makes you understand how this man was able to deceive all these people, but which also makes you deeply curious about his true character and mentality. Layton cleverly avoids giving interpretations of Bourdin himself; instead he lets us see and assess the man for ourselves; unfiltered, but hardly unveiled.
The moral aspects of the story on the one side and of the film on the other is another interesting point of discussion. Layton certainly doesn't go to any length to protect his interviewees from themselves, and several of them have moments where they expose lack of either intelligence or self-analysis. However, there is no disrespect in Layton's proceedings, and also no conclusions, which means no bias.
What Layton does do, however, is view the whole case with some perspective and distance, allowing his film to contain hints of humour and playfulness, despite the serious subject matter. The reenactments are fairly well-made and effective, and they're simply used to create suspense and tell the story, not to criticise anyone's behaviour or actions. I found this decent, given the amount of time which has passed here, and the lack of implications this particular incident had on any others than those interviewed in the film. One might criticise The Imposter for not shedding new light on this mystery or digging deep enough, but I believe Layton's aim here, beside telling this absurd story in a compelling manner, was the psychological aspects of it all. And in that respect, The Imposter is a brilliant, thought-provoking documentary.