Director Bart Layton’s first time feature documentary The Imposter is the implausible yet true story of a modern day tartuffe Frederic Bourdin, a compulsive liar and persuasive conman.

The 2012 Miami Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner is full of intrigue and drama beginning with the disappearance of 13 year old Nicholas Barclay from San Antonia, Texas in 1994. Three years later his family receive a phone call from Linares, Spain with the news that Nicholas has been found.

Part talking heads, part re-enactment, the docudrama re-tells the genuine account of family loss, deception and conspiracy comparable to the best Shakespearean tragedies and introduces us to a real life cast to match the bard’s own imaginings.

After receiving the unexpected news, Nicholas’s sister Carey Gibson (played in part by Anna Ruben) left the USA for the first time and headed to Spain to verify the improbable reports. Alongside Gibson’s story, French national Bourdin recounts his take on the far-fetched tale.

The person she believed to be her brother was puzzlingly different than the one she knew three years earlier. Not only was his appearance different but he’d also acquired a French accent.

With Adam O’Brian taking on the role, we watch Bourdin’s own surprise at what happened next. Along with the US Embassy and the FBI, Gibson inexplicably accepted the stranger as her brother, for which he received an American passport and a flight to the USA.

The Imposter takes you on an unforgettable emotional journey that questions your allegiances and your logic as the story continues to get curiouser and curiouser. The unquestioning attitude continues as Bourdin’s obvious physical differences don’t even cause a stir when first introduced to Nicholas’s mother and extended relatives.

Although Bourdin is 23 years old, he attends school and integrates himself into the local community as Nicholas while convincing the FBI he was a victim of an international sex abuse ring. He also further ingratiates himself into his new role by speaking to the US media about his experiences.

But he doesn’t convince everyone. Local private investigator Charlie Parker is convinced Bourdin is a fake and gets quite fixated on the imposters motives (and ears). At the same time a children’s doctor reports that Bourdin can’t be Nicholas.

In yet a further twist the new information about Nicholas’s identity doesn’t affect the family’s manner towards to the stranger leading Parker and Bourdin to believe there must be a darker motive behind their conspiratorial behaviour.

Layton’s factual documentary is told like a great piece of fiction and his consummate storytelling skills keep the audience continuously guessing. In a similar vein to 2010’s Catfish you’re left in doubt about the plausibility of the unfolding events.

The Imposter’s exquisite re-telling of the surreal events of 1997 and its emotionally charged conclusion challenges the audience to ask who are the real victims and villains in the disturbing story of Nicholas’s disappearance. An absolute must see.

FACT, cert 15
Wood Street