Director: Bart Layton
Cast: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Bruce Perry, Philip French, Adam O’Brian, Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach, Alan Teichman, Ivan Villanueva, Maria Jesus Hoyos
Screened at: A&E, NYC, 7/3/12
Opens: July 13, 2012
Admit it: You’ve sometimes imagined what it would seem to be like someone else; to have Bill Gates’s money, President Obama’s prestige, Tom Cruise’s popularity, Brad Pitt’s looks, Angelina Jolie’s lips. But how often have you wished to actually BE someone else? There are precedents. in Daniel Vigne’s movie “The Return of Martin Guerre,” a man leaves his family and friends for the war and comes back a changed man, though he claims to be Martin Guerre. He is not. In Fred Schepisi’s film “Six Degrees of Separation,” a rich New York couple puts up a guest without fully believing that he is the person he is. Bart Layton now sends “The Imposter” our way, a hybrid between a documentary and a docudrama, about a young man who claims to be the lost child who disappeared forty months ago. Never mind that his hair color is different, his ears and height are not the same as the actual boy’s, his accent is off, he is seven years older than the son would be, and the eyes are brown rather than blue. The mother, sister, and others in the community seem to believe him to such an extent that when the FBI offers to give the lad a DNA test, the mother refuses, as if to say that she has doubts herself but is amply pleased to have this strange person in her home to replace the biological child, Nicholas Barclay of San Antonio, Texas.
You’ve got to hand it to Frédérec Bourdin. He has the guts to put across the scam, getting away with his own non-recognition of his community buy insisting that he had been shanghaied to Spain, sexually abused and tortured, and now too traumatized to make sense of his environment. This is a fascinating idea that loudly calls for a film adaptation—and in fact did come to us two years ago when Jean-Paul Salomé released “The Chameleon,” a taut dramatization of the Bourdin scam. To get added drama to the true story, Layton combines actual interviews with staging, the aforementioned mix of doc and docudrama.
The result, however, lacks tension and is, in fact, a bore to sit through. The “film” (actually looking like a series of cheap, digital shots), is too dark almost throughout as though the lenses rarely saw the light of day. And we can do without any graininess that is put there for cinema-verité effect: we get it.
The motivation of the sister, mother, friend and others in the community to believe that Bourdin is the long-lost son is difficult to figure, but not so the incentive for Bourdin compulsively to pass himself off as other than himself. In an endless interview that lasts almost throughout the film, Bourdin looks at the camera to explain that he was himself sexually abused and often wished he were somewhere else where he could receive love and attention. He passed himself off as an orphan at least once to get placement in a children’s home. Despite a prison sentence, he continued scamming families throughout Europe. Some people get their kicks watching soccer: Bourdin is turned on by taking on new identities like Nunnally Johnson’s Eve in the film “Three Faces of Eve,” though that title character trips from one identity to another rapidly. And look: Bourdin is now the star of this film!
Rated R. 95 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – C
Technical – D
Overall – C