“Why would you ever take in a stranger?” The question posed by FBI agent Nancy Fisher comes late in The Imposter. Bart Layton’s fascinating film, recently short-listed by the Academy Award for Best Documentary, traces the case of Frédéric Bourdin, one of the stranger strangers you might imagine. In 1997, the 23-year-old called the police in Linares, Spain, pretending to be a tourist who’d discovered a traumatized boy in a phone booth. When the police arrived, Bourdin pretended to be the boy; taken to the police station, he was left alone in an office where he found the name of a missing boy from San Antonio, Texas, Nicholas Barclay. He then pretended to be Nick, whose family, desperate to find him, took in.
Screening at the Maysles Cinema on 10 January 2013, the film is not only concerned with the story, in itself enthralling, but also with its layers of implications, how lies and losses and desires become entangled. Featuring interviews with Bourdin, Nick’s family, and investigators, as well as reenactments (Adam O’Brian plays Bourdin playing Nick), it offers a range of possibilities as to “why” any of this happened. Bourdin has his own set of pathologies (he’s a serial imposter, incarcerated more than once), but the Barclays and the community back in San Antonio, who accept the imposter as a once- missing high school student, are also implicated. The movie explores broader questions about what truth might be, how performance and deception structure daily life, how memories are made, and how identities change—constantly.
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