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The Imposter

There are two sides to every lie 

Year: 2012 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Bart Layton 
Starring: Adam OBrian, Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson  
An image from The Imposter

The first feature-length effort from documentarian Bart Layton is more than just a cinematic jumble of found footage and arranged interviews. It’s a triumph of storytelling and a breath of fresh air for the documentary format, displaying an ability to get right under the skin of those watching and leave a lingering impression.

Employing home video footage to begin with, Layton establishes the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay. One summer afternoon in 1994, Barclay vanished without a trace from his neighbourhood in San Antonio, Texas. With the roots of the mystery established, Frédéric Bourdin is then introduced – wonderfully enough – via a direct-to-the-camera interview wherein he confesses his falsehoods from the off. In 1997, Bourdin contacted the authorities from Spain, claiming to be Barclay, with a fabricated tale of kidnap and sex slavery as his account.

From there, featuring tastefully minimal reconstructions of events and ‘talking head’ interviews with Bourdin and the family of Barclay, a vast and sprawling web of lies is uncovered, as Bourdin reveals how he was welcomed ‘back’ into the Barclay family with open arms. However, in the face of such an absurd claim from Bourdin, the family is also scrutinised: surely they knew this wasn’t their son? It’s a disturbing question explored with real gravitas, with the choked-up family declaring that it was a necessity to believe this man’s claims.

With further testimonies from investigators, social workers and government officials, The Imposter doesn’t shy away from the ludicrous nature of its foundations. Some of the outcomes of Bourdin’s actions seem laughably absurd, but considering their reality, they are just as unsettling as they are entertaining.

Bizarre, brilliantly constructed and absolutely chilling, this investigation into a double-edged lie provides a genuinely shocking experience. It’s one which will leave you marvelling both at Layton’s film-making skills and at Bourdin’s frighteningly effective powers of deception.

Michael Perry

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Screenings of this film:

2012/2013 Spring Term (digital)