The Imposter reaches for the impossible

The trouble  with making a commercial documentary about past events is fairly obvious – it inevitably involves using reconstructions; and let’s face it, they’re rarely good. Unlike a feature film – which this documentary clearly and desperately wishes it was – one cannot simply just pick and choose the pearls and then rewrite or simply write out any inanities that don’t fit into the master plan or narrative flow. There is instead a journalistic responsibility to do thorough research, establish facts and a sequences of events, and  present them without becoming dry and trite. The integrity is clear in The Imposter, but unfortunately so are its bombastic and clumsily executed wannabe-filmic reconstructions.

British TV director Bart Layton has chosen to present this outlandish true story from a dizzying array of character viewpoints, resulting in an overly-dramatised series of interviews, re-enactments and home video footage that prove somewhat overblown and repetitive for this shape-shifting story of Nicholas Barclay, a Texan teenager who disappeared in San Antonio in 1994, only to apparently resurface in Spain almost four years later.

Given the title of the film, it is no spoiler to reveal that it was in fact Frédéric Bourdin, a dark-haired, brown-eyed 23-year-old French-Algerian with a history of false impersonation who stumbled into the opportunity to impersonate the blond, blue-eyed Texan boy. With his sociopathic charm, Bourdin makes for compelling viewing, and only gets more so the longer the film progresses and the more his psychotic nature is fully unravelled. We hear his motivations of wanting to belong and to be somebody, and it is laughably entertaining to see the level of official incompetence from the Spanish and American authorities, the familial self-deception, and the ingenious duplicity that was required to help him along his way.

However, despite the content of The Imposter being very thoroughly explored, it is the level of over-stylisation that irks. We are drowned in gratuitous pseudo-tension and filmic technique, from slow-motion and time-lapse to manipulated audio and over-engineered visual transitions, which ultimately only serve to detract from the genuine craft involved in documenting this complex and fascinating story.

The Imposter (15)


Dir: Bart Layton; UK doc, 2012, 94 mins; Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker
Premiered October 18
Playing at Vester Vov Vov and Gloria Biograf

  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.