A family loses their 13-year-old son who one day up and vanishes without a trace…. Over 3 years later they receive a call saying he’s been found in Spain! It’s much to their dismay that the teen in question is in fact, like the title suggests, an imposter. How did they not know that straight off? How true can it all be? And of course, does this documentary do this bizarre story justice? My review after the jump.
In The Imposter Frédéric Bourdin is who we constantly see and hear from throughout – he “narrates” large parts of the film . Bourdin seems charming enough, and importantly he appears strangely calm and down to earth, thus making his accounts of particular stories and facts sound quite accurate. This man is the central character in question, the one who duped a family into believing that he was their blonde hair, blue-eyed son they lost years earlier ago. The ‘bizarre’ part to all this? Frédéric has a Spanish accent thicker than a stereotypical movie Ecuadorian cleaning lady who is only starting to learn English; and he looked just as he sounded…and the family believed it! As the story progresses, we’re introduced to a private detective assigned to the case. He knows the kid’s an imposter, yet this barely scratches the surface as to what’s revealed and what is hinted at by almost everyone involved in this charade. How could this family not see past his scam? How did he convince so many people? What don’t we know about the disappearance of this young boy, and what aren’t the family mentioning?
Writer/director Bart Layton, producer; Dimitri Doganis and editor Andrew Hulme present this story in a somewhat unconventional documentary format. The structure in which these facts are told remains within the confines of documentary film-making and storytelling, yet is told to us, the audience as if The Imposter were a sophisticated thriller. The score, the archival footage and the re-enactments are all given a real sense of time and place, thus making the reveal of each new development in this unpredictable story a very tense. This tension continues to build, it simmers throughout the entire film. The editing in particular reinforces the tension. The film-makers knew they had something special with this uncommonly known, yet absolutely preposterous tale. How could they resist not making The Imposter as gripping as any fictional mystery thriller being produced these days? We’re intrigued and inquisitive the entire time.
Having said all of this, how does one critique a documentary in terms of narrative? Can only presentation and editing be assessed? What about the story we’re being told, regardless of its truth? The story here, is one that if you were told of what actually happened in person, you’d flat-out refuse the notion that it ever happened. Thankfully the documentary conventions evident throughout remind us that this really is fact, not fiction. But, it’s in those cinematic touches where my problems lie. I struggled to believe some of the more ridiculous turn of events when it resembled a film so closely. It took me out of the story quite a few times and served as distracting rather than continuously rewarding (which it is many enough times). Another gripe I had was with some of the re-enactments. There are moments when they just don’t work, for they’re shot in a way as if we’re watching an episode of ‘Scandal makers’ (see Arrested Development), where you’re almost waiting for an ad break to come on to create a cliff-hanger. At times this boarders on cheap and does nothing to lend credibility to the story.
All quips aside, The Imposter is an incredibly fascinating story that should be told. Like a great film, it raises questions, yet holds your attention till the final credit roll. This is fine documentary film-making that deserves real attention; but don’t be surprised when you find yourself questioning everything you know about the people and their stories.
By Chris Elena
For an another view on the film, check out Sam McCosh’s 5 star mini review of The Imposter from MIFF2012 here.
Director: Bart Layton
Starring: Frédéric Bourdin
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: February 28, 2013; New Zealand; January 10, 2013