Have you ever been told a story and thought 'you couldn't make it up?' There are some stories that, had then been invented and not happened in real life, you just would not believe. Well, in the case of The Imposter, truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.
In 1994 Nicholas Barclay, a thirteen year old boy from San Antonio, Texas, disappeared. Three years and four months later, his family are contacted to say that Nicholas has been found alive in Spain. Nicholas' sister travels to Spain to pick him up and takes him back home. But is the young man who he says he is? Well, sadly, the title kind of gives the game away. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that this is an impeccable piece of documentary film-making.
Whilst knowing that 'Nicholas' is really a twenty-three-year-old French conman named Frederic Bourdin does take away some of the drama of the story, it really is only just the tip of the iceberg. Bourdin's audacious scam spider-webs out to impact the lives of a grieving family and the resulting story is told in an admirably even-handed and non-sensational manner. It would have been so easy to have turned this into a lurid Jerry Springer-esque freakshow, but director Bart Layton eschews the tabloid shock-value ethos for something a little more quiet and ultimately more devastating.
A mixture of dramatic reconstruction and talking-head testimony, Layton seems content to let the story almost tell itself. The end result is a heady mix and has left me with several unanswered questions. That could be considered a failing but I don't see it like that. It's left me with food for thought. I felt several conflicting emotions during the film: sympathy, anger, confusion, bewilderment, frustration, suspicion and disbelief all in the space of ninety-nine minutes. There aren't many films that can do that to you.
Engrossing, absorbing and unbelievable, this is one of the strongest documentaries I have seen in years.
Rating: 4 out of 5