Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Imposter (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Imposter

Bart Layton's documentary  "The Imposter" is a masterpiece of reporting and narration. It is informative, startling, disturbing and thoughtful. It also brings up a kind of dark surrealism that can exist in the everyday, however improbable it might seem.

Some might remember the Nicolas Barclay case focusing on a 13 year old adorable but volatile boy who went missing from his San Antonio home in 1994. It was presumed a kidnapping. The authorities and family turned up nothing. 

Three years later, the NYPD gets a peculiar phone call from Linares, Spain about the missing boy. The voice is garbled but convincing enough. The family is alerted.

Hopes rise.

It soon becomes apparent to the audience alone that the claim is bogus. The scheme was spontaneously launched by a twenty-something year old Algerian who grew up with "no childhood to speak of," a dispassionate and neutral man who was by his own admission, a hoped for abortion. His biological family was unapologetically racist. His motives for the ruse, were seemingly simple:  He was sick of being a nobody and not counting. Here was the anonymous young chance, at last: to be accepted by an American family, to be loved.

Without question, this young man, a F. Bourdin is very disturbed and is a clear sociopath. The real thrill of the documentary, however, is its attention to detail, the minutia it presents and its tour de force revelation in turning young Frederic Bourdin into an antihero worthy of Camus' Meursault or Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley.

Bourdin, who is rangy and pale, goes about in public ( when he must) like a paranoid porcupine but privately, on camera, he comes alive brimming with a fiesta of confidence. He gets excited by the thrill of deceit and its implications. 

Emotions mean nothing and possess no charge.

Time and time again, he almost gets caught by the overlap of facts and circumstance. But... with seconds to spare, an odd fate always seems to intervene to release him. Bourdin's preparations (or lack thereof), and the labyrinthine surprises that unfold rival the best of existential crime fiction. "The Imposter" contains all the richness of a Truman Capote nonfiction novel. Highlights are to be found in the smoky and surly character of Beverly Dollarhide, Nicholas' mother, (whose name alone is wonderful). Her goal in life is merely "not to think." Also striking in film is the investigator one Philip French, a large jocular man who wears a straw fedora. French could be a dead ringer for Burl Ives and is straight out of The Southern Gothic.

Film enthusiasts might be tempted to put Beverly and her clan in the company of "Winter's Bone" and it would be fitting for them to do so.  The Dollarhide house is mahogany brown throughout and punctuated by animal heads. The relatives are besieged by smoke, embedded in wrinkles and enervated by the push and pull of amorality. As the film progresses, they virtually disappear within their sepia and ochre domestic landscapes. All of Nicholas' relatives become dissipated by happenstance and their own pettiness.

The film's final images of Frederic Bourdin dancing spastically in prison, in the style of Michael Jackson, is as satisfying as Dostoyevsky or Samuel Beckett, yet they have more in keeping with John Kennedy Toole.

And whether you enjoy the qualities of ambivalent fiction or not, "Imposter" remains a must see. Fear not. As you slink into the theater and take a corner seat, you need not change the color of your eyes.

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