Agatha Christie, the grandmother of mystery fiction, couldn’t have written it better. The Imposter, a first feature by Bart Layton is what fiction dreams are made of. The only predicament is that not one bit of it is imagination. A documentary of sweeping thrill, The Imposter reconstructs the very real, and fully inconceivable crime of Frédéric Bourdin – master con-artist of the utmost niche genre – stealing the identities of missing children.
In October of 1994, Nicolas Barclay, an American lower-middle class pre-teen from San Antonio, Texas was declared missing by his family one evening when he did not return home after basketball. Three years later, a destitute, and lost, un-identified young adult is found in southern Spain, and taken into custody of a children’s shelter. Refusing to cooperate with Spanish authorities until the very brink of legal action, the unidentified person finally announces that he is Nicolas Barclay. But who can attest to the truth of his assertion? In a world where fingerprints and DNA are the only truths that are left infallible, assumption becomes the advantage of those who prey on humanitarian kindness – he is a missing person, and everyone is anxious to be a Good Samaritan. There is only one unsettling piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. This Nicolas Barclay looks nothing like the Nicolas Barclay that disappeared. Relying on the power of group-think not to mention the incremental and segregated process of solving a mystery, the new Nicolas Barclay makes his way to the U.S, is reunited with his family, begins to attend high school, and immerses himself in the American dream, with few questions being asked.
As a result of already knowing the ‘Who’ of the mystery, the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ become the compelling guide to breaking down Bourdin’s crime. The inspirational seed for the design of The Imposter can be found through Errol Morris’s ground-breaking documentary The Thin Blue Line. Morris’s 1988 film successfully freed a man who was falsely accused of murder due to its fact-gathering presentation of the evidence and its stylish re-enactment of the night in question. The same can be said of The Imposter which places sociopath Frédéric Bourdin in the bizarre position of star and culprit. He recounts his own crime with such enthusiastic motivation and eerie charm that even the objective viewer forgoes atonement in place of thrill.
By far one of the best documentaries of the year, The Imposter has the potential to grow a documentary sub-genre that will successfully blur the lines between fiction and reality. Not only will it keep you strapped to your seat in anticipation, it will have you digging through all the angles long after the closing credits.