Identity theft case examined in ‘The Imposter’
Ryan Summerlin January 24, 2012
Speaking with The Park Record from San Antonio, Texas, as he prepared to fly to Utah for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, British documentary filmmaker Bart Layton very carefully chose his words as he attempted to convey the many convoluted aspects that surface throughout his new documentary, "The Imposter."
One got the sense that he still couldn’t quite believe that such a story had intersected his creative arc. The words came hesitantly as he told the tale of a blonde-haired blue-eyed 13-year old Texas boy who disappears for a few years, only to return years later with a thick accent, olive skin, dark hair and dark brown eyes and, more or less, to be accepted by his family.
Marveling at the sequences that led him to making his film, Layton attempted to spell out the plot without including some of the more idiosyncratic aspects that make it such a special work. "As a documentary filmmaker you could wait a lifetime to happen upon a story such as this."
"From the moment we heard about it, it sounded like something that couldn’t possibly have taken place in the real world. A French-Algerian man successfully steals the identity of a missing Texan boy and begins a new life within the boy’s family, posing as their child?"
Layton, without even attempting to make sense of this most curious state of affairs, continued the stories within the story of his film. It began in Spain back in 2009 when he came upon a magazine article about "a certain Frédéric Bourdin, aka, Le Chaméléon."
Bourdin, it seems, "had adopted dozens of false identities and traveled the length and breadth of Europe passing himself off as a traumatized child."
A quick Internet search led the filmmaker to "a long and fascinating piece from the New Yorker Magazine which described his time in Texas."
When Layton met the imposter, "he was extremely compelling. At once charming and off-putting, childlike and jaded someone who seemed to have lived his life in a fantasy he had created for himself one that suited him better than the troubled life he was born into."
Although by now convinced Bourdin was a pathological liar and that he could easily get sucked in, Layton wanted "to hear him tell his story in his own words a story he seemed to have been writing and rewriting for some time." Speaking of the Texas component, from which the film was drawn, Bourdin explained it this way: "They were a family without a kid. I was a kid without a family."
From filming the many participants in this stranger-than-fiction story, Layton came away with many quite different versions of the same events. The mother and father and sister of the missing Texas boy had their stories, of course. The filmmaker found them "fragmented, bereaved and still unsettled by their encounter with the man who had claimed to be their long-lost loved one, who had lived (with them) as their child."
Then there was the Texas private investigator who saw something goofy about the new boy’s ears and a female FBI agent who discovers the case she’s looking into to be a total fabrication. There appeared to be loose ends about the missing Texas boy who had been found alive in the south of Spain with a story of kidnap and torture. Go figure!
Even before the stylized lighting had been set up and the cameras rolled, the film had become "noir." New truths supplant older truths until they themselves are called into question. Which is just where Layton wants to leave us: "I want audiences to go on an emotional journey and to leave the film with their heads buzzing with thoughts, questions and debates."
"The Imposter" continues its run this week in the "World Cinema Documentary Competition" category and will screen:
Wednesday, Jan. 25, noon, Temple Theatre, PC
Thursday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m., Tower Theatre, SLC
Friday, Jan. 27, 8:30 a.m., Library Center Theatre, PC
Saturday, Jan. 28, 3:15 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema 2, PC