Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Imposter


The Imposter is the kind of film that, because of how well it is made and precisely it is executed, has the rare ability of redefining the documentary art form. At 99 minutes long, there isn’t a wasted sentence of juxtaposition or faltered cut in editing – everything works and flows as well as any recounted documentary of recent memory. It is, in a word, revelatory.

Bart Layton’s film (which, for the record, will certainly be on the shortlist for Oscar consideration) tells the story of how a teenage Texas boy resurfaced in Spain after disappearing three years earlier.

Nicholas Barclay was 13-years-old when he vanished from his small Texas town. A few years later, he called the police from a pay phone in Spain, lost and begging for his life. Days later, Nicholas was reunited with his ecstatic family, and, despite his as-to-be-expected timid demeanor, all was right in the world. And then we, the audience, are hit with the kicker.
In fact, we’re hit with it quite earlier – the discovered person isn’t Nicholas Barclay at all, but rather Frédéric Bourdin, a 23-year-old con artist who had spent the better part of his life escaping the law by pretending to be someone he’s not. In this case, Bourdin, through a set of miraculous coincidences that I dare not reveal here, saw an opportunity to become Nicholas, and went all in. The result is a story of equal parts humor and delusional curiosity. As in, we’re curious as to how Nicholas’ family could be so goddamn delusional. And then things begin to click.

Or do they?

That’s the beauty of this film, its story is told from the perspectives of a handful of people, many of whom we learn we shouldn’t fully trust. Bourdin, for example, is a wonderfully dynamic storyteller. His unreserved candidness in retelling his tale is wholly refreshing; there isn’t a shred of pretense to be had here. The man has nothing to gain by lying, so why not tell the truth? Good question, one that I don’t think applies to Bourdin’s moral complexity, which is precisely what he has in common with Nicholas’ family.

Do me a favor, if you have pictures available, put a shot of yourself when you were 13 next to a picture of yourself when you were 16. See much difference? Sure, puberty undoubtedly took hold, but you can still see you, right? So then, tell me how in the hell Nicholas’ family bought in to the notion that Bourdin was Nicholas?
Enter Charlie Parker, a private investigator who bleeds Texas through and through. Parker smelled rat from the get-go, and was one of the first people to expose Bourdin for who he was. But once the dust settled, Parker sought to reveal a bigger question: how does a family not recognize one of their own?

So, in short, The Imposter is one hell of an exquisitely layered documentary that never gives you more information than you need to know. It reveals the prefect cards at the prefect time.

Many documentarians are taught to follow the same basic instructions of answering who, what, where, when, why and how. To put it simply: The Imposter does this, and then some.

“Why” may be one that we’ll never fully know. But either way, Charlie Parker is still digging. A

22 comments:

  1. Don't usually see Docs in theaters, perhaps I'll make an exception for this one. For awhile I didn't think a doc could affect me the same way a great film could, they were glorified special interest pieces. It wasn't until 'Burma VJ' that I realized the power that a documentary can convey. One of the most awe-inspiring viewings ever.

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    1. Yeah, lately, I've found that documentaries have the ability to move me as much, if not more, then narrative films. A well-made doc can hit in all the best ways. This is one of them.

      Gonna have to check out Burma VJ.

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  2. This got a ridiculously short run time at my local cinemas so I missed out on it, which is annoying as I really wanted to see it. Will need to wait for the Blu Ray now...

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    1. Ugh, that's just the worst, isn't it? It's like, Play the good flicks longer then just one week, please.

      Either way, definitely be on the lookout for the Blu Ray. Shit was incredible.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. Totally agree, it was superb, it is a perplexing mystery alright.

    What I don’t get is criticism that the film never answered any questions over why the family believed (if they did, that is) Frédéric Bourdin was their son, in my mind the question is somewhat answered. Clearly, they were destroyed by his disappearance and they wanted to believe that the miracle was true that they convinced themselves that it was true. It is quite moving in my eyes to be in such a desperate position that you would accept someone with the belief that he is your son when he isn’t. Personally, I do not think the close members of the family had anything to do with his disappearance.

    Also, did people laugh at the screening you were at?

    Oh, another great documentary to see is Nostalgia for the Light.

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    1. People only laughed at my screening during Charlie Parker's scenes. Those moments were by far the funniest shit I've seen in a movie so far this year. Dude was genuinely hilarious.

      Did the family have something to do with Nicholas' disappearance? Hell, I don't know. But who am I to judge, you know?

      Nostalgia for the Light.... I'm on it!

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  4. Hey!

    Nick from www.cinekatz.com here. Doing some scout work for the LAMB. We're wanting to make an email newsletter for community features as well as a list we're making similar to Sight & Sound's best movies of all time list. Just need an email! Email me at npowe131 at gmail.com

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    1. Just sent you an email. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. I got chills just reading this review, can't wait to see this whenever it gets released.

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    1. Damn man, thanks! Definitely check it out when it comes your way. Bitchin flick.

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  6. Having seen the film I can say that this review is as much a masterpiece as the film. Great work, Alex.

    See The Imposter if you get the chance, everyone, its one of the highlights of 2012 so far. Fascinating, edge-of-your seat entertainment.

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    1. Damn Andy, thanks so much for that! Really glad we both dug this one so much.

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  7. This is the second review I've read of this film, and it is already on my list. This sounds so fascinating and disturbing I want to get my hands on it right away. Excellent review!

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    1. Thanks Stephanie! Ah, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Loved everything about it.

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  8. Wonderful review man. This is another one I hadn't heard of, but I really want to see it now. I can't believe the family bought into that, and I'm anxious to find out more about this story.

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    1. Thanks dude! Yeah, as for the family, let me just say that I purposefully left A LOT out of this review. I only skimmed the surface of the mystery this film portrays. See it by any means necessary.

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  9. I've been hearing so many great things about this one, I am very intrigued, I will definitely try to see it soon! I am so happy to see that more and more documentaries are getting attention and success, this genre deserves more credit!

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    1. Yes, me too! A good documentary can work so well, which this one does and then some. This will definitely be lingering around come awards time.

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  10. I loved this film - it was the highlight of MIFF 2012 for me. I haven't been able to write about it, so I admire your extremely well-written and thought out review. This better me nominated for a best doco Oscar. Nice job Alex.

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    1. Thanks Sam! This actually was a tough one to write about. I wanted to say how good it was, but, to keep with the mystery, not say why it was so good. Loved this movie!

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  11. Another one I selected to watch based on your year end list.

    What a complete mindf*ck... This has to be the quintessential example of, "It has to be true, because if someone pitched the idea, they'd be laughed out of the room."

    Beyond that, I don't know what to think. The director's craft in making this is extraordinary. Is it a documentary? Is it a recreation? That was nearly as disorienting as the story, which may have been the point.

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    1. Really glad I led you to this one and that you liked it so much. Love hearing that. I think you're right: what's real, what's exaggerated? Who knows, but that may be what it's all about.

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