First movie watched after election day, which knocked every thought out of my head, so trying to recollect them for this writeup.
Con artist in Spain Frédéric Bourdin claims to be missing person Nicholas Barclay, taking us through how he convinced authorities and even the Barclay family to believe and embrace him, despite being the wrong age and having a French accent. His identity is unambiguous to the movie audience – he’s not Nicholas – so the mystery and tension are in figuring out why everyone is going along with his story and when he’ll be found out. A private investigator finally unmasks him, and raises the suspicion that the family was quick to go along with his story because one of them might have murdered Nicholas.
Each new twist and turn in this story of lies and untold truths will leave you aghast at both the audaciousness of the tall tales and the stupidity and willingness of the people that believed them. Documentaries tend to deal in truths but The Imposter deals in lies which means you are never truly trusting of anything that is said. It provides the film with a strange quality as you question each and every new piece of juicy information Layton slowly teases.
First and foremost, it’s a creative essay about confirmation bias, an “affliction” that, as we see here, spares nobody. Whether through pre-interview instructions or judicious editing (and I honestly don’t care which), Layton cannily tells the entire story in the present tense, never allowing Nicholas’ family to attest to knowledge or emotions they didn’t have at the time, and (more crucially) never permitting them to retroactively explain themselves … My only lingering reservation involves the decision — justifiable, given the film’s modus operandi, but troubling nonetheless — to let Bourdin control his own image right up to the last few minutes, so that the extent to which he’s a pure sociopath winds up feeling like a plot twist.