F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 19, 2015)

19 02 2015

The Imposter

“For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be someone else.”  So begins Frederic Bourdain, the narrator of Bart Layton’s documentary, “The Imposter.”  The line may seem commonplace, but it sets the stage for a rich exploration of identity – inherited, assumed, and forged.

Here is a case where the truth is not only stranger than fiction, as the old adage goes. “The Imposter” is also more interesting and compelling than many scripted narrative films these days, thus making it a more than deserving choice for my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  Bourdain uses one real story to illuminate the human proclivity for deception on a much grander scale, showing the way we bury secrets through buying into our own lies.

In 1990s Texas, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappears.  Three years later, he mysteriously reappears in Spain.  It’s rare to find a missing child alive years after disappearance … and even more uncommon to find that child in another country.  If the documentary sounds like a first cousin of the Clint Eastwood-Angelina Jolie film “Changeling,” the similarities end past the logline.

As the title implies, “The Imposter” is about someone pretending to be Nicholas Barclay – in this case, Frederic Bourdain.  A bum looking for any path to a better life, he falls short of a criminal mastermind, though he certainly knows how to exploit loopholes and alleyways in a lazy bureaucracy.  Somehow, he manages to circumvent each and every safeguard that should have exposed his act.

Since the film’s title makes direct reference to his deception, the through-line of suspense is the anticipation of the moment when his house of cards tumbles.  Yet just when the jig seems up for Bourdain, “The Imposter” takes one heck of a surprising turn.  Perhaps there is not only one talented artist of concealment in the film.  I’ll stop talking now, lest I spoil this gripping, entertaining, and enlightening film.

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