SXSW Review: The Imposter — Nothing is stranger than real life…
1994. San Antonio, Texas.
13-year-old Nicholas Barclay is playing basketball with friends. He calls home to have his mother pick him up, but she is asleep and his older brother refuses to wake her. Barclay is never heard from again.
1997. Linares, Spain.
Frédéric Bourdin, a 23-year-old with brown eyes and a French accent, convinces the Barclay family that he is their blue-eyed son, Nicholas. His would-be family travels to the US embassy in Spain to take him back home.
At this point, you’ve got to be asking yourself, “How is that possible? How could a mother not recognize her own son?” Directed by Bart Layton, “The Imposter” is a documentary that explores the art of deception, whether it be in the form of an expert chameleon like Bourdin or through a family’s denial and the rationalizing away the significance of opposing evidence.
Bourdin dyes his hair blonde to match Barclay’s and even gets matching tattoos. He speaks in whispers to hide his accent as much as possible. He explains his transformation from the trauma of escaping a child prostitution ring, where he had been held prisoner for three years.
The family, so desperately wanting to believe that their son is still alive, refuses to accept that Bourdin could be anyone else than who he says he is. Even dead giveaways like his brown eyes are explained by horrific, details experiments his captives performed on him using needles.
“The Imposter” truly proves that nothing is stranger than real life. If you get the chance to see this documentary, don’t pass it up. It’s a surreal, stupefying film that manages to be entertaining while appalling at the same time. It plays out more like a super-stylized episode of “This American Life” than a by-the-numbers documentary.
Here’s the poster as well – what do you think?