Feature Review: The Imposter – Bart Layton

Review: The Imposter

In 1994, Nicholas Barclay, a thirteen year old boy, disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas. Three years later, he is found cowering in a telephone box in Linares, Spain.

After being picked up by the police and taken to a children’s home, the boy, traumatised and unable to speak, is told he has to tell them where he is from. Looking up at the map on the wall behind the desk, he points to America. He says he wants to contact his family again, but that he needs some time.

The next day he reveals that he is Nicholas Barclay. Abducted from his Texas home by a paedophilic ring of military men, drugged with chloroform, and transported around the world for the purposes of rape and abuse, he had now escaped.

But this is not Nicholas Barclay, this is an imposter. After spending the night creating an elaborate ruse, Frédéric Bourdin, a twenty-three year old Frenchman had convincingly begun to impersonate a boy he has never seen or heard of. When Nicholas’ sister turns up in Spain a few days later to collect her blonde haired, blue-eyed brother, she sees brown-haired, brown-eyed, bearding Bourdin. She flings her arms around him and flies him back to their family home in Texas.

Bourdin, known as ‘the Chameleon’ in France, has a history of impersonating missing children in Europe. But, unable to drop his French accent, it wasn’t long before Bourdin was clocked as a bit suspicious – especially for Private Investigator Charlie Parker.

Parker goes onto compare the ear from a childhood photo of Nicholas to a screenshot of Bourdin’s ear from a TV interview. Opening the files up in Adobe Photoshop and zooming in, Parker sees they are completely different – and finds out they have an imposter on their hands! But this is not the film’s biggest revelation. On his arrest, Bourdin says: “I had walked into a lie that was even bigger than my own!”

The audience cannot help but be mesmerised with Bourdin as he breaks the fourth wall, his eyes roving on screen and his sentences ended with a strangely sly smile. On the other end of the scale, Charlie Parker is a sturdy and charming man, his slacks and braces and P.I. status serve to enhance the atmosphere of the film. Never have there been people in life so perfectly transplanted into film. They are, it seems, ready made cinematic characters – the Coens couldn’t have done a better job.

The bang-on editing, ominous music, and intensely lit reconstruction scenes mean this documentary lends itself well to the cinematic screen and certainly doesn’t disappoint an audience who just came in looking for the newest box office thriller. An incredible must-see.


Secret Screening (14th August) and Q&A with Bart Layton and Charlie Parker

Conway Hall: set up like a court room, police skirting the outside door, court summons required for entry, metal detector system in front of the screening room, the audience seated like a jury, a pseudo-judge preceding.

Admittedly, it’s a tacky set up, but it nonetheless serves its purpose as an extension of the film’s themes.

Charlie Parker called to the witness box.

With the film still being a secret to a large proportion of the audience prior to the title credits, and even after being unknown on their film radar, the surroundings and staged court were somewhat problematic.

The far fetched nature of the film’s events and the humour involved (mostly as a result of the general knowledge faux pas of the American family) from the talking heads would lead an uninformed audience to believe they’re watching a mockumentary – since the likes of Fargo, Blair Witch and Troll Hunter audiences are rightly suspicious of any subtitle that states “these are true events.” Ho-ho unlikely. But this time they actually are!

With a fake judge “calling” Bart Layton to the stand, it seemed as if the “façade” was just continuing off-screen. Whether people had realised this was an actual documentary before this, now, or not until they looked it up at home on Wiki later, I wouldn’t like to guess.

Bart Layton, taking the whole set-up light-heartedly found it difficult to stifle his laughter. Relaxed and exuding a laid back kind of charm, Layton discussed the reality of the film and his relationship with the imposter, Frédéric Bourdin. Despite manic twitter feed about being misunderstood and slinging slander towards Layton and the film, Bourdin had in fact refused to watch the final edit and has still not ever watched the film. “He is hell bent on not watching it. He thinks it makes him out to be a liar,” said Layton with a hint of a smile and an eye-roll.

What really made the show was the encore Q&A with Charlie Parker, the private investigator. Suited up, Charlie Parker comes to the stage. Originally working at a lumber yard, Parker eventually began looking into cases in his spare time, after finally solving his first case his career as a private investigator snowballed from there. He has now been a private investigator for twenty years.

In his Texan accent he relates how he is still searching for the body of Nicholas Barclay – he has two more places to dig, a water-well to investigate, and in fact doesn’t have all that much time to be here. The FBI has filed the case as closed, but Charlie Parker endeavours to open it up again. He says, “I have no real proof, but in my business everything is suspicious.”


The Imposter, dir. Bart Layton (2012, USA)


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