A re­mark­able scam, or is it

Bart Lay­ton’s doc­u­men­tary of se­rial im­poster Frédéric Bour­din is as­ton­ish­ing on many lev­els, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

IT WOULD not in­volve hy­per­bole to sug­gest that The Im­poster is the most as­ton­ish­ing film you will see this year. This is not to say it is the best or even the most orig­i­nal movie of the sea­son (though it’s pretty darn good and pretty darn sin­gu­lar). No other film will, how­ever, have you rub­bing your eyes in dis­be­lief quite so of­ten.

Bart Lay­ton’s doc­u­men­tary fo­cuses on the most re­mark­able of many hoaxes car­ried out by a French im­poster named Frédéric Bour­din. In 1997, this pe­cu­liar, eerily charm­ing young man – then in his early 20s – was found shel­ter­ing in a Span­ish phone box. Ques­tioned by the po­lice, he be­gan im­pro­vis­ing and, af­ter gain­ing ac­cess to miss­ing-per­son records, found him­self claim­ing to be a boy, Patrick Bar­clay, who had gone miss­ing in San An­to­nio three years pre­vi­ously.

The wheels be­gan clank­ing. A few short weeks later, Bour­din was en­sconced with Bar­clay’s des­per­ate fam­ily in Texas. None of this makes any ra­tio­nal sense. Of Al­ge­rian de­scent, the im­poster spoke with a pro­nounced ac­cent and, whereas Patrick was blonde and blue-eyed, Frédéric had brown eyes and – dye dealt with the stuff on his head – dark stub­ble on his adult chin. Yet both fam­ily and the au­thor­i­ties ac­cepted him as the real thing.

The film does not paint the rel­a­tives as id­iots. Patrick’s adult sis­ter, clearly des­per­ate, comes across as a de­cent per­son who sub­con­sciously al­lowed her­self to buy into an at­trac­tive al­ter­nate re­al­ity. It’s hard to be quite so for­giv­ing of the FBI agent who ac­cepted Bour­din’s fan­tas­tic tale in­volv­ing uni­formed sex-abusers with the power to al­ter pig­men­ta­tion.

Bour­din, who is in­ter­viewed at length, looks eerily like Joaquin Phoenix and, as a re­sult, one is re­minded of fa­mous hoaxes such as that ac­tor’s re­cent I’m Still Here. But there is lit­tle doubt the film’s story is gen­uine.

Then again, we should per­haps ap­pend the words “to a point” to that last sen­tence. In the later stages, Bour­din throws us a

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