‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’
– The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery
The Imposter is a British documentary film released last year which is based upon the true story of Frederic Bourdin, a French con-man, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a Texas teen who had been missing for years. When I first heard about the documentary I was intrigued. How could a person be so callous as to toy with a family’s emotions in this way? How did the family not realise that this was an imposter and not their missing relative? However the documentary raises issues that are even more disturbing than the obvious questions.
Bourdin was found in Spain and managed to fool authorities there and in the US, convincing them, despite his French accent, that he was Nicholas Barclay. He was eventually ‘reunited’ with Barclay’s family with whom he lived for a number of months. Bourdin was seven years older than the missing boy and he looked nothing like him. He had brown hair, brown eyes and sallow skin. Barclay was blonde, blue eyed and facially very different. But no matter to Bourdin; he had a reason and an explanation for everything. Bourdin is clearly a sociopath. His main concern was that the real Nicholas would come home and he would be found out, not the effect that he was having upon a vulnerable family desperate to find the boy that had gone missing years before.
As the film progressed and Bourdin was questioned by police and accepted by the family, I kept thinking, ‘But his eyes are brown!! If nothing else does that not give the game away? But people see what they want to see and the family were in denial to the obvious facts to an almost delusional extent. They refused to believe that Bourdin was anyone other than their son. As the film continues and various hypotheses are put forward to explain the family’s reaction, the film takes an even more disturbing turn.
The Imposter was not nominated for an Academy Award this year and many film critics believe that this is a huge oversight. It has been placed on many “Best Films of 2012” lists and rightfully so. It’s a well made, thought provoking and ultimately quite unsettling film and definitely worth a watch.