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Retrospective Film Review: Bart Layton’s The Imposter

Sunday 13 July 2014
Words Spindle

“You couldn’t make it up!” as Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn might say, although if he did, this inky-black study of the psychological limits of acceptance and deception might have found a different angle; “That Frédéric Bourdin, coming over here, stealing our missing children’s identities…”.

Proof that real life donates the best scripts and dialogue, Layton’s extraordinary film hinges not only on the exploits of The Chameleon himself, already vastly documented, but on the disappearance of thirteen year old Nicholas Barclay who vanished from Texas in 1994, and his family’s – desperate? suspicious? warranted? – willingness to accept him – actually Frédéric Bourdin – back into their lives. Much like James Marsh’s 2008 documentary Man On WireThe Imposter similarly constructs the narrative around a generic thriller-mould – complete with re-enacted dramatic sequences which cleverly blend the interview footage with carefully choreographed facsimiles of the real events.

There’s a rather dark and unsettling shift into murkier waters in the film’s third act, when the focus shifts from Bourdin – an endlessly fascinating individual – to the grieving family itself: is there something uglier going on behind the scam, something even Bourdin is unaware of? The film is as incredulous as it is uncomfortably plausible, and, despite ourselves, we are utterly compelled to go down this particularly eerie rabbit-hole to see where it leads.

Words: Ash Verjee