LITTLE ROCK The Imposter (2012) Bart Layton R, 99 minutes
The beyond-bizarre story behind this documentary was first introduced in a 2008 New Yorker piece by David Grann titled “The Chameleon: The Many Lives of Frederic Bourdin.” The subject of Grann’s story was a serial impersonator who, over 15 years, had invented scores of identities for himself - most of them in the form of an abused or abandoned child - in more than 15 countries and five languages. It was a strange chronicle, one that stayed with you long after you handed off that particular copy of the New Yorker to someone else.
The Imposter, director Bart Layton’s documentary of Bourdin’s curious approach to life, keeps a tight focus on only one of Bourdin’s many impersonations - his transformation into Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old San Antonio kid who suddenly disappeared in 1994. Despite the fact that Bourdin, who turned up in Spain 3 ½ years later claiming to be Nicholas, was 23, with brown eyes (Nicholas’ eyes were blue), dark hair (Nicholas was blond) and foreign-accented English, Nicholas’ sister Carey Gibson, mother Beverly Dollarhide, and other relatives embraced him into their family.
During an FBI interview, the newly found Nicholas claimed to have been kidnapped and taken to Europe where he was tortured, raped, and used as a sex slave. When his story starts to sink under the weight of its many discrepancies, a fingerprint test reveals Nicholas to be Bourdin. Why did Bourdin claim to be Nicholas? And why did Nicholas’ family go along with the claim? How far down do the lies and deception go? The film uses a lengthy, well-edited interview with Bourdin, conversations with Nicholas’ sister, mother, family members and neighbors, revealing discoveries by portly good-old-boy private investigator Charlie Parker, and re-enactments featuring a young man with a five o’clock shadow and dyed blond hair portraying Bourdin-as-Nicholas in various situations to piece together the parts of the puzzle. Although Layton’s search for the truth turns out to be elusive, and the use of the re-enactments is exhaustingly overdone, there’s not a dull moment in the story. It’s like watching a bug crawling around: disturbing, yet fascinating. Much as you often want to, it’s hard to turn away - you just have to hang on to see what’s going to happen next. “A whole lot stranger than fiction, The Imposter is a documentary that’s disturbing in ways only reality can manage,” says critic Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. “This is a train wreck you think you see coming, but no matter how prepared you are the nature and extent of the damage will overwhelm you.”
OTHER RECENT DVD RELEASES:
Chasing Mavericks (PG, 115 minutes) Based on the story of surfing icon Jay Moriarty, Chasing Mavericks concerns a 15-year old surfer’s (Jonny Weston) quest to conquer Northern California’s most dangerous waves with the help of local surfing legend Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), who takes him under his wing. “A coming-of-age story which should end with the young boy becoming a young man,” writes critic Daniel M. Kimmel in New England Movies Weekly. “Unfortunately, fate had other ideas. As the old saying goes, God writes lousy theater.” With Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer; directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson.
Sansho the Bailiff (not rated, 132 minutes). This powerful 1954 film explores a quest for justice by an 11th-century Japanese nobleman who, after irritating a feudal lord, is exiled and his wife and children sold into slavery. The film, says critic Dennis Schwartz, “is a masterpiece in its simplicity of telling a compelling story and its depth of understanding the human condition.” With Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayaqi; directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.
On the Waterfront (not rated, 108 minutes) This expertly constructed drama, also from 1954, features a stunning performance by Marlon Brando as washed up boxer turned longshoreman Terry Malloy, who rebels against his all-powerful dock boss (Lee J. Cobb) by becoming a whistleblower. “Brando made one of his most indelible impressionsin this relentlessly dramatic, ever-controversial tale of loyalty and betrayal in the world of working-class unions,” says critic David Sterritt in the Christian Science Monitor. With Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger; directed by Elia Kazan.
Karen Martin is a Little Rock based writer and critic. Email her at:
MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 03/01/2013
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