Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Imposter


Infamous serial imposter Frederic Bourdin has stolen the identities of over 500 missing children worldwide. In 1997, the French 23-year old claimed to be missing child Nicholas Barclay from San Antonio, Texas, who had disappeared at the age of 13 three years prior. Despite lacking the physical attributes of their American speaking blonde and blue-eyed Nicholas, he successfully convinced the Barclay family that he was their long lost son, ascribing his changing physicalities to the trauma from the sexual abuse he experienced during his kidnapping. It was only when a TV crew member, who was filming the family at the time, raised suspicion of his doubts that this was Nicholas that further fingerprints and DNA tests were carried out. In March 1998, five months after he had come to live with the Barclay’s in the USA, Bourdin was imprisoned and later sentenced to six years in prison after pleading to passport fraud and perjury. But his impersonations of missing children worldwide continued long within the bars of his cell.

His story has become world renowned with an explosive mass of tabloid press, and his hijacking of Nicholas Barclay’s identity has been more recently depicted in a fictionalised account in French director and screenwriter Jean-Paul Salome’s The Chameleon.

But this year, fact finally and favourably replaces fiction as documentary specialist Bart Layton delivers the definitive biographical documentary of the decade.

Featuring a catalogue of recent interviews accompanied with several reconstructions (Adam O’Brian playing younger Frederic Bourdin), Layton forms a clear and vivid account of the journey of Bourdin’s impersonation of Nicholas Barclay from both his, the Barclay families and authorities perspective over those five months. Though it is the 1997 incident that the documentary is primarily concerned with, Layton is essentially successful in capturing the bigger picture of Frederic Bourdin’s psychological plight by including a brief pre and post-1997 report of his life.

Due to the nature of the topic the lack of emotional response from the participants throughout the feature is surprising. Instead, the detailed descriptions from various Barclay family members and Bourdin himself are effectively bold, candid, direct and largely emotionless.

The bio-doc immaculately unveils the mind and the manipulative mastery of Bourdin. His unnervingly confidence and his self-assuring ability to convince and persuade withdraws the suspicion of the Barclay’s involvement in Nicholas’ disappearance much less than it did in the film adaptation (that concluded with the uncovering of the family secret - that the death of Nicholas was at their hands.) Although unwelcome, it is difficult not to seep sympathy for the now-retired imposter Bourdin as he recalls his absent childhood and his longing plea to find love and affection. But his overriding selfishness and his natural blight, all the more clear in his final words in the documentary, reminds us of his ever-present determination to be accepted and his nonchalant attitude to exercise his cruel obsession at the expense of others misery and heartbreak.

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