The Imposter tells a story that any self-respecting Hollywood studio boss would throw in the bin for being ridiculous. Except it happens to be true.
The Imposter - strange but true
Because, Frederic Bourdin, a young Frenchman with Algerian blood and brown eyes, known to Interpol for his ability to deceive, defraud and impersonate, really did turn up at a Spanish police station and announce that he was teenager Nicholas Barclay (seven years younger), the long-lost son of Beverly Dollarhide, a blonde boy with blue eyes, as well as a tattoo on his hand. How did he explain his absence? He'd been abducted by an international child prostitution ring years before.
And Beverly and her daughter Carey welcomed him with open arms, and took him back to their home in Texas, where he lived as Nicholas for three months, until he was busted by a tenacious private investigator who happened to look at his ears.
People are bound to ask why Beverly Dollarhide failed to recognise her 'son' as an imposter
Bourdin was convicted of passport fraud and perjury, and jailed for six years before returning to live in France, where he now has a wife and family.
The Imposter, a disturbing but utterly unforgettable documentary in UK cinemas today, tells the story through the eyes of ALL the parties involved, with Bourdin telling his story straight to camera. Why did the British director Bart Layton allow this fraudster, who had brought so much extra suffering to a grieving American family, so much time on screen?
"I actually thought it was fairer to the Barclays to show Frederic Bourdin in all his mastery of manipulation," Layton explains.
"He pulls you in, he has all these tricks, and I wanted to capture them on camera so viewers could see just how the Barclays could have been fooled.
"Any reasonable person would wonder how a family could be taken in by a complete stranger, and I hope that including him goes part-way to explaining how that could happen."
Director Layton allows Frederic Bourdin to address the camera directly, and explain his actions
There are many questions that remain unanswered, hinted at, in the course of the film - what did happen to Nicholas Barclay? Who knew what? Are Beverly and Carey covering up a bigger crime than anything committed by Bourdin? It creates the impression almost of a 19th-century literary tradition of unreliable narrators combining to create an ambiguous whole, something Layton is happy to hear...
"The whole message of the film is one of deception, perception and ultimate uncertainty, so it feels completely appropriate that viewers are left wondering who's fooling who, or indeed themselves."
And what does Bourdin think of how he's portrayed in the film?
"He's furious, even though he hasn't actually seen it," reports a bemused-sounding Layton. "He's complaining that we've made him look like a liar."
The Imposter is in UK cinemas today. Trailer and pictures below...
The Imposter - strange but true.
Beverly Dollarhide - did she really not recognise that he wasn't her son?
Carey Gibson, Nicholas Barclay's sister, went to collect "her brother" from a Spanish police station.
Carey's husband remembers taking "Nicholas" into their home.
Charlie Parker, private investigator, was a dog with bone, once he caught sight of Frederic Bourdin's ears.
The FBI got a call from Charlie Parker, private investigator.
Frederic Bourdin talks straight to camera in the film, explaining his actions.