By Laurie Coker

Rating : B

Missing children, sadly, is an all too common occurrence. While many are runaways or are taken by a parent, some fall prey to scary people. When first heard about the documentary The Imposter, and the 13 year old boy, blond haired, blue-eyed Nicolas Barkley, who disappeared in 1994 outside of his rural home in San Antonio, Texas, I was intrigued, but director Bart Layton’s film is far more than that. He does not just offer a story of a missing boy, but one of a man who manages to convince a grieving family that he is their child. And the tale put forth by Bart mesmerizes.

Going directly to the source, Bart begins with French-Algerian con artist named Frederic Bourdin, who made a career of assuming, throughout the 1990s, a series of more than a dozen alter egos that took him across Europe on false passports. Bart’s film focuses on one key con, which brought Bourdin, in 1997, to America and to the home of a distressed family in San Antonio, who welcomed the then 23-year-old fraud into their home.  Unbelievably, Bourdin looks nothing like Nicholas when he is discovered in Spain, and while he dyes his hair, he can do nothing to change the color of his eyes or facial structure, and still Nicholas’ sister, Carey, inexplicably flies to Spain, welcomes him with open arms and takes him back to Texas, where the entire family seems to accept him.

Eventually, red flags are raised, by governmental authorities and others, as to the man’s real identify and as to why the family would take in a complete stranger, leading some to believe that they had something to do with Nicholas’ disappearance. Truly this tale is stranger than fiction, and Bart manages to tell it in a taut, suspenseful way, actually having Bourdin narrate and even play himself in clever dramatic reconstructions. From the streets of Spain, where he cons his way into a boy’s home, hoping for a bed and three meals, to a simple home in Texas, Bourdin and Bart takes us on the most mind-boggling of journeys made all the more mesmerizing by interviews with Nicholas’ family members.

My emotions fluctuated as I watched and so many questions came to mind. How did a twenty-three year old pass himself off as a teenage boy, why did the family take in someone who was obviously not their missing boy, how did authorities let any of this occur and what really happened to Nicholas? Bart seeks to answer these questions and manages to do

Bart provides a measure of insight into Bourdin’s pathology, demonstrating that he was the unwanted child of a 17-year-old French girl and an older Algerian man, who longed to be loved and belong. But adding to the intrigue, he further delves deeply into the sould who accept this man into their home, painting an emotional portrait of Nicholas’ family, including his mother, Beverly Dollarhide and his sister Carey Gibson, calling into question the reason behind the decisions made. Honestly, I shouldn’t much about the outcome, but I will add that Bart’s (and because of its basis in truth the story’s) ending left me wondering and feeling a tad disappointed.

Overall the tale and Bart’s telling of it surprises. Still, I found The Imposter seems to venerate Bourdin more than he condemns him, and I find that a bit unfair.  He also leaves gaping holes, holes caused, I am sure by the truth, but I needed to hear more about why this family would accept a complete stranger into their home – one with a French accent, a five-o-clock shadow and dark, brown eyes. Still the telling is powerful and the story wildly watchable, so I am placing a B in my grade book. It is one of the better documentaries I have seen thus far this year.

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