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Features: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Codey Gibson, Bruce Perry and Phillip French.
Writer / Director: Bart Layton.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sat 11 Aug, 9.00pm; Fri 17 Aug, 6.30pm.

Rating: 4.5/5

Bart Layton’s The Imposter begins with an incident that shatters a family and rocks a community. Thirteen year-old Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay, the epitome of the blonde-hair, blue-eyed All-American youth and all the promise that description held in the summer of 1994, disappears without a trace on his way home from a neighbourhood basketball game. Three-and-a-half years later, the family is all but resigned to the fact that they will never see Nicholas again.

Until into their lives comes a young man hailing from Spain, by the name of Frédéric Bourdin.

An artfully constructed docudrama that ranks among the very best of this hard-to-define genre, Layton’s film is a riveting account of the man who assumed a missing boys identity and managed to fool a family, a township and a federal government before it all began to unravel. The details of the deceit, however, are just the first steps on the incredible journey that the abused spirit and sad memory of Nicholas must endure.

The Imposter morphs effortlessly from scene-to-scene - a noir-ish mystery thriller, a crime-scene procedural, a drama chronicling a family’s anguish, a facts-only documentary – yet exists as a fluid single entity of profoundly impactful force. Every one of the talking heads are captured within a frame rich in detail and production prowess; behind-the-scenes contributions not usually heralded as part of the factual films, such as lighting, set design and music, are all employed with precision and subtle but unforgettable resonance.

Layton is helped immeasurably by both the geographical scale of Bourdin’s ruse (his life of crime has extended to many countries, including Australia) and by a group of subjects who each have deeply-rooted emotional ties to the case. The most compelling of them, of course, is Bourdin himself, who immediately strikes one as both a charming, erudite Frenchman and a clinical sociopath. Audience assumptions are shattered, though, when some third-act finger-pointing suggests young Nicholas’ family may have more to do with the boy’s disappearance than first thought.

The Imposter has been justifiably compared to The Thin Blue Line, master documentarian Errol Morris’ similarly-themed 1988 work that was so influential it would lead to a murder case being re-opened and an inncocent man being released from prison. The Imposter’s impact may not extend to that degree despite a final shot that offers hope that it someday might. Nevertheless, Layton’s superbly cinematic film certainly exposes one of the great acts of heartless fraudulence in modern history and the egos, emotions and procedures that combined to let it be so.

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