Anyone with kids knows that when you lose track of them at Chuck E. Cheeses or Target, or even your own home for just a few moments, youre suddenly gripped with a kind of terror so strong that its practically indescribable. Not knowing where your child is, feeling completely out of control, as cliché as it sounds, is a parents worst nightmare; even those of us who dont have kids have an understanding of why parents go from zero to panic in a fraction of a second.
Were all terrified of losing our kids, and the unfortunate few who actually go through that experience will do almost anything to be reunited with their children, even if it means believing in something that, to the rest of us, seems unbelievable.
Thats what takes place in Bart Laytons new true-crime documentary, The Imposter, which opens at Hillcrest Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 7. Heres the rundown: In 1994, a 13-year-old Texan named Nicholas Barclay went missing, and he wasnt heard from for more than three years. Thats when he popped up in a small village in Spain, telling a tale of abduction, sex slavery and escape. Nicholas sister, Carey, went to Spain and declared that the boy she found there was her missing brother.
It is not a spoiler to tell you— and you may have surmised this from the films title—that the person this San Antonio family takes into its home is not, in fact, their son. Frédéric Bourdin, the 22-yearold Frenchman who passed himself off as Nicholas for several months, narrates much of the movie. A feature film about the case was made a few years ago.
Layton sets the scenes with reenactments instead of the standard talking heads. Thats an interesting way to go, though in some ways its suspect, because you never know if youre getting the real story. (It should be remembered, however, that the pioneer of documentary reenactments is Errol Morris, one of our premiere documentarians, who used the technique to free a man from Death Row in The Thin Blue Line.) One of the films more engaging characters is Charlie Parker, a private investigator who had been involved with the search for Nicholas and was suspicious of the official word that the kid had been found.
To hear Parker describe it, it seems like a no-brainer: His family should have known that this person wasnt Nicholas. After all, there were significant physical differences between Bourdin and Nicholas, and his accent sounded French, rather than Spanish. Sure, some of these you might chalk up to the passage of time (he was just 13 when he went missing, remember); others you might think could be overlooked by a family so desperate to learn that their son is alive. More than likely, its a combination of those things. Laytons film plays out like a thriller, but it also points out that people are fragile creatures who are often willing to lie to themselves to avoid the truth.
Bourdin himself has a theory about why he was able to get away with his ruse for so long, and it implicates the family in Nicholas disappearance. That would seem to be precisely what a guy like Bourdin would say. He is, after all, a professional con artist, and hes convincing enough that you see why hes had so much success in his profession. At the same time, you must always remember that the director has given a sociopath, whos at once charming and creepy—someone you should automatically assume is an unreliable narrator—a microphone, and while its interesting to hear what he has to say, he probably shouldnt be believed.