This is a fascinating story about a con artist who was able to carry off a ruse of being someone else to so many people for so long, it becomes rather fantastic. When Frederic Bourdin was 23 years old, he got the idea of posing as an American child (Nicholas Barkley) who had gone missing three years before. The child would only have been 16 years, 8 months at the time, but the con artist thought he could convince people he was that child. The Imposter, by British director Bart Layton, is in large part Frederic Bourdin, recounting his story—how he planned the ruse and his thoughts and feelings while he was in the masquerade. Additionally, Nicholas Barkley’s family members and San Antonio townspeople report their reactions to him. It is impressive that Bourdin was able to be convincing enough to fool the authorities in Spain, and even Nicholas’ family, getting a passport and being picked up in Spain and flown to San Antonio by Nicholas’ sister. The family immediately accepted him, and he enrolled in school and began developing friendships.
Gradually, the FBI, which had to investigate the situation, since it involved a missing minor, and a private investigator began to suspect something was amiss. The main puzzlement was how the family did not recognize that this was a stranger in their midst. Then, the investigators began to suspect the family had something to hide, which would account for their not admitting he was not their son/brother. The ending of the film is something of a surprise. The documentary has won best documentary by the British Independent Film Awards and the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival.
This is indeed a very good documentary that has a “stranger than fiction” quality to it. The story unfolds gradually like a detective novel, with the viewer kept in suspense as to how everything will turn out. By the end, they account for much of the outcome in a way that the whole thing makes a little more sense, but one is still let somewhat puzzled as to how the series of events could actually have happened. Obviously, it did.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland