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In 1994 Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year-old Texas boy from San Antonio, vanishes without a trace. Three and a half years later, staggering news arrives: the boy has been found, thousands of miles from home in Spain, saying he survived a mind-boggling ordeal of kidnap and torture by shadowy captors. His family is ecstatic to have him back no matter how strange the circumstances - but things become far stranger once he returns to Texas. (Partial re-enactment.)

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's one hell of a yarn, and it may never have worked as a movie if it were a fictional story. The brief outline or story synopsis can hardly even hint at the level of emotional and psychological complexity - struggle, even - the filmmaker puts us through. Although re-enactment is one of the tools director Bart Layton uses, they are subtle and minimal - suggestive of memories, without dialogue.

The use of re- enactments - a bit like flashbacks - enhances the visual dramatics, but it's the confession-to-camera by Frédéric Bourdin that provides the dramatic tension, and ultimately, the sense of having absorbed an extraordinary example of the human experience - from the key participants' various (and out-of-synch) versions of it.

Yet the most admirable aspect of this documentary is the way Layton manages to unravel each aspect, every twist, with the patience of a brain surgeon. As we inch closer to the answer to every 'why', a new layer of circumstance or a twist emerges.

Layton draws us further and further into the maze of not just what it was that Frederic Bourdin undertook but how - and what he felt about it all as he went along. It's tempting to provide some examples but the film's delicate balancing of what is revealed in what sequence is so fine that it would be a shame to spoil that for intending audiences.

A tremendously satisfying film and for anyone interested in filmmaking techniques, The Imposter has many lessons; for the rest of us, it reinforces the golden rule: never assume anything about anyone.

Review by Louise Keller:
The most fascinating thing about this real life story is that the revelations never stop. The title tells us what the story is about, but it is impossible to imagine the complex elements that involve not only the central character, a young man pretending to be someone else, but those who accept him as the person he pretends to be. Director Bart Layton has crafted a breathtaking documentary that involves us in the lives of all the characters, which in turn allows us to understand the events as they unfold. The fact that we hear the details from the imposter Frédéric Bourdin himself - is especially potent. The motivation, the execution and how everything falls apart is utterly incredible: this is a tale that needs to be seen to be believed.

In the opening, grainy home video images, we meet Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year old blond kid with blue eyes and a gap between his teeth, playing around for the cameras at home. It is in 1994 that the boy disappears from his home of San Antonio, Texas. His disappearance never made the news; it was just news to us, says his mother, Beverley Dollarhide. The phone call from Spain three years later is a life-changing one - for his family and for the 23 year old man who assumes Nicholas' identity.

Why would a 23 year old dark haired man with a French accent want to assume the identity of a missing boy seven years his junior? What of the story of military sexual and physical abuse? How does this man know of Nicholas' disappearance? How can he fool the boy's family on the other side of the world? Or do they want to be fooled? Is it human nature to want closure on the disappearance of a loved one? Or is there another reason why they are quick to embrace him?

In his own words, Bourdin tells how he wanted to be someone else; someone who was acceptable. Is he searching for the safe, loving childhood he never had? The mystery continues as Nick's sister Carey flies to Spain to collect the person she believes to be her missing brother. What happens when they return to Texas? And what of the involvement of a private detective called Charlie Parker and the FBI? Layton skillfully uses interviews with the key characters plus re-enactments of the events to deliver a riveting thriller. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

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DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT - the story of a lifetime.

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(UK, 2012)

CAST: Documentary. Partial re-enactment featuring Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O'Brien, Carey Gibson, Anna Ruben, Beverley Dollarhide, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Alan Teichman, Nancy Fisher,

PRODUCER: Dimitri Doganis

DIRECTOR: Bart Layton

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Erik Alexander Wilson, Lynda Hall

EDITOR: Andrew Hulme

MUSIC: Anne Nikitin

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Marcia Calosio, Mariona Julbe

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 28, 2013: Melbourne: Nova; Sydney: Dendy Newtown; Brisbane: Schonell; Perth: Cinema Paradiso; Hobart: State)

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