The Imposter is a documentary about the absurd story surrounding a disturbed young Frenchman who tries to convince a Texan family that he is their son who went missing three years earlier. It intersperses real footage and interviews with re-enacted scenes in an incredibly effective way.
In 1994, 13 year old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from San Antonio, Texas. In 1997, a young man is found in Spain, claiming to be Nicholas. When watching this with my friend Floris, I hadn’t really researched the film beforehand. We assumed the film to be a mockumentary, albeit a very convincing one. The trailer for the movie made it out to be a psychological thriller with some great twists and turns in the story, and some mind-blowing revelations. This is not exactly correct. Right in the first few minutes you are told that the guy from Spain is not in fact Nicholas Barclay, but a French 21 year old dude named Frederic Bourdin, who is running from the law, hiding in child-protective services. This took me by surprise. Why spoil the big question at the beginning of the film?
I was intrigued. The story was compelling, told from both the perspective of the Texan family, as well as the French imposter Frederic. The family’s feelings around what is happening are conveyed, which makes you feel sorry for them. At the same time the reasons for why Frederic did what he did are explained, which makes you feel for his plight as well.
But the further along into the story you get, the more questions appear in your mind. Frederic doesn’t look anything at all like Nicholas. He has the wrong hair colour, the wrong eye-colour. He speaks with a heavy French accent. I’m interested in the human psyche, and know that it so often sees what it wants to see. But as more and more facts start to unmistakably show that Frederic is NOT Nicholas, this reasoning becomes difficult to maintain.
At the same time the viewer starts feeling like something is off with the way Frederic is telling his story too. There is no remorse there, no guilt whatsoever for essentially mentally fucking with a grieving family. He seems oddly detached and self-centric…
Without spoiling too much, the story does still have some rather messed up turns by the end of the film. At this point two thoughts went through my head: “Wow, that was perfectly written and acted.”, and “There is no way this really happened.”
A quick google turned up that this is in fact a true story, and those interviewees were the actual people involved. However, mockumentaries are known to go pretty far in establishing their “true” nature. Still cynical, Floris and me dove further into the old internets and found actual news-articles from 1994 and 1997 that indisputably proved that this was a true story. My mind was blown. Not in the way advertised by the trailer of the film, but blown all the same.
I highly recommend watching this documentary. It is a tremendous story, told in a compelling way with the re-enacted scenes. Both editing and music are wonderfully executed. It’s an astounding demonstration of human nature and how mentally fucked up people can get.