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EIFF 2012: The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)

June 24, 2012

This was written for The Skinny, but below the link is an expanded version of my review for them.

Review for The Skinny

In 1997, over three years after a child’s disappearance in San Antonio, Texas, a seemingly traumatised teenager found in a phone booth in Spain claimed to be the missing boy. When circumstances led authorities to believe him after an ambiguously articulated tale, he was returned to his family through his sister flying to Spain to identify and collect him. Nicholas Barclay, a blue-eyed, blonde thirteen year old American now had brown eyes, dark hair dyed blonde, a French accent, less pale skin, and looked much older than sixteen. Claiming to have escaped from a child prostitution ring where he was tortured, this Nicholas was an imposter, but was somehow still accepted by the family without question.

Detailing the exploits of the man the press nicknamed “The Chameleon”, The Imposter is an enthralling documentary that doesn’t just rely on the key events of its baffling true story for potency. Director Bart Layton incorporates various wonderfully shot dramatic re-enactments amidst the interviews and little archival footage, and structures the film like an elaborate thriller. Information peters out slowly through the various documentary techniques, maintaining an equal degree of knowledge between the viewer and the subjects, as the interviewees and the film itself explain events chronologically without revealing what these circumstances eventually led to until the conclusion. The Imposter, as a result, has a hypnotic atmosphere. It is also one of constant dread and unease, enhanced by the interviewed imposter’s switch between apathy or enthusiastic recollections free of apparent remorse, and frequent cuts to his either nonchalant or smiling face in close-up during the stories of other talking heads.

The FBI retain some involvement after “Nicholas” goes to San Antonio, but it’s the contributions of a private investigator, suspicious of the imposter’s appearance and behaviour in television interviews, that helps fuel the eventual exposure. Most interestingly, doubts are cast regarding all parties involved, even the deceived family, exploring the idea of there being two sides to every story in a truly unsettling fashion. The film leaves some of the sinister happenings open to interpretation, enhancing the very creepy atmosphere of its horrifying narrative and points about deception and denial. This is a powerful, haunting work.

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