Monday, 3 September 2012

The Imposter [Review]

Perhaps the year’s most fascinating film thus far, The Imposter delves headfirst into a world of ambiguity; and, indeed, ambiguity is, for the majority of its 99 minute runtime, its sole offering to its audience.

Not that that audience would want to remain passive anyway – the information unloaded in this docu-drama is, for the most part, only bereft of the answers it cannot give: but the manner and timeliness in which it reveals the information that it can give gifts us so much more. The Imposter tells the tale, as it were, of 13 year-old Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared from Texas in 1993 only to [supposedly] turn up three years and four months later in Spain.

Of course, it’s no spoiler to tell you that the new Nicholas is in fact not the same being as the old Nicholas. No, this is someone else entirely, lest puberty hit Nicholas harder than most. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed 13 year-old Texan is now a dark-haired, brown-eyed man with a five-o-clock shadow and a heavy French accent. Something’s amiss, but Nicholas’ family doesn't even notice.

You might think that’s all there is to it. The family were just so desperate to have their boy back that they accepted a clear imposter into their home. That’s as far as a daily tabloid paper might run with the story, anyway; The Imposter, however, seeks to delve far deeper into the mystery, of how and why an average American family would welcome a stranger into their lives, and the true intents and background of the eponymous pretender.

And the revelations are stunning, if not likely to hit hard enough to throw you off your feet in disbelief. Rather than a series of blunt shocks, The Imposter builds tension from an increasing sense of discomfort and uneasiness, which trickles through its superbly constructed storyboarding and delivery of information (a brilliant mix of interviews, home footage and dramatisations), to the end that its audience cannot simply remain passive. We are forced to ask our own questions of the film; not just those it prompts, either, and all as it dangles answers so tantalisingly close.

Some never come, but this is a documentary, after all – as they say, the truth must out. Director Bart Layton does plenty with what he has anyway, keeping us in 99 minutes of superb suspense, and in the end there’s no real need for all the answers: The Imposter is incredulous enough to allow room for interpretation – a rare commodity of the documentary. Closure’s for fiction, anyway.


Dir: Bart Layton
Cast: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Nancy Fisher, Charlie Parker
Film4, 99 mins, 24/08/12

Synopsis: 1993: Nicholas Barclay, 13, disappears from San Antonio, Texas. 1997: A young Frenchman manages to convince Nicholas' entire family that he is their missing boy. How? Why? And just who is this imposter?


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