An incredible account of how a family were tricked into believing their missing 8 year old son was actually a 23 year old Frenchman, The Imposter is the closest a documentary has ever come to being a thriller.
Since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year the film has been making waves across the globe putting it in contention for awards come to the end of the year. With the film expanding to new territories this week, director Bart Layton recalls where his journey first began.
“I first read about the story in a Spanish magazine,” Bart Layton says. “I couldn’t understand how this could happen; what kind of person would do this and what kind of family would fall into it.”
But while the elaborate con and its enigmatic subjects are hugely compelling, there’s one simple reason for The Imposter’s success: how Bart Layton brings it to life. From the opening scene, the British born director keeps you gripped to the edge of your seat as the story twists and turns in increasingly baffling, jaw-dropping directions. It’s so incredible, in fact, you occasionally have to remind yourself that it’s all real.
“I felt like it had to be a documentary,” Bart Layton says when asked why he chose this format over a traditional dramatic approach. “If I had done it as a drama it would seem too extraordinary to be true!”
But Bart Layton has avoided making your conventional documentary here. He blends interviews from the Barclay family and conman Frederic Bourdin with noirish dramatizations inspired by David Fincher’s Zodiac and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant that bring their recollections to life.
“I knew we wouldn’t have much stock footage, there were some home videos but that was it,” Bart Layton recalls when asked why he chose to employ this style. He explains: “[The dramatization] looks like a heightened reality… It’s what these characters want you to think happened. It’s about subjectivity.”
This fine line between what actually occurred and what the characters would like you to believe is one of The Imposter’s most remarkable aspects. Audiences are likely to leave the film in furious debate, trying to dissect who was telling the truth and who was lying: the Barclay family or Frederic Bourdin. This is something Layton was careful to emphasize in The Imposter.
“I wanted to take the audience on the same journey I went through making the film,” Bart Layton says. “One day you’d think you understand how it happened and then the next day you’d have a completely different opinion.”
What results is one of the most skillfully directed and fascinatingly told stories you’re likely to encounter this year and while this may only be a debut for the young British documentarian The Imposter demonstrates he has a bright future ahead.
The Imposter is out in US theatres now. It is released in the UK on August 24th.