Director: Bart Layton
Star: Frédéric Bourdin
The year just started and I am going to call it now: Best Documentary of the Year and in my ten best films for 2012.
When your better half leans in and asks, “Wait, is this a doc? I thought this was a doc?”, then truth is stranger than fiction. I’m not sure if it was on The Simpsons or Seinfeld or some other show, but I once heard that the more outlandish you make your lie the more likely people will believe you. The Imposter proves this true.
In 1994 a thirteen year-old blond hair blue-eyed boy goes missing in San Antonio, Texas. Three years later his family is informed that he has been found in Barcelona, Spain. His older sister goes to Spain and brings him back to the family despite the French accent and brown eyes. Back in the States he goes through a FBI interview–with an agent who reminded me of Georgette from Mary Tyler Moore–and tells his tale of being kidnapped by military personnel to be a sex slave. How he was tortured, brainwashed, had his eyes chemically changed, and was smuggled to different countries.
In San Antonio, he attends high school and starts dating. He goes on talk shows and is interviewed for the TV News. Finally some begin to suspect something is not right. A local Private Investigator starts asking questions. A FBI Forensic Psychologist does not believe his story and suspects the storyteller. Once the family realizes the government thinks their son is an imposter they do everything in their power to block or slow the investigation. Why did he steal the identity? Why is the family trying to protect him? What happened to the son?
The Imposter is directed by Bart Layton, one of the founders of raw TV in the UK and creator of Locked Up Abroad. If you are familiar with that show, then you will recognize the style and look of this documentary. Layton stages feature film quality reenactments to recreate parts of the story. The interviews with the family are all one-to-one, and beautifully shot and lighted. The interview with the Imposter, Frederic Bourdin, displays his charisma. The style of the documentary is designed like a heist film: Bourdin explains his motivation, how and why he planned each step of his impersonation, and then the doc shows how he implemented his plan.
An audience member hit the nail on the head during the Q&A with Layton when he described the documentary as going from a tragedy to a comedy. I would add the qualifier “dark” comedy. It is a tragedy as you know the family’s hopes of finding their son/brother are about to be dashed by an Imposter who cares nothing about their feelings, and they will go through another devastating loss. But as the doc moves forward it becomes more of a comedy with each compounding absurdity of how Bourdin continues to be accepted as the missing boy until the charade finally shatters. The humor disappears when Bourdin reveals his remorseless and compassionless face in his last interview, and you realize there is still a missing boy that has never been found.
You don’t have to be a fan of documentaries to enjoy The Imposter. You just have to be a fan of film.
Grade = A