The Imposter is one of those films where the less you know about the actual plot (in this case real life story) the better. Let’s just say it centres on a young man from Spain who claims he is the long-time missing son of a grieving Texan family.
Needless to say there’s a lot more to it than that and director Bart Layton spins this already interesting story into an utterly fascinating and compelling mystery doc that’s as impressive technically as it is as a documentary drawing you into a story most audiences won’t be aware of.
The real skill of The Imposter is how it blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not. The web-like story presented is so astonishing that it’s hard to believe that it actually happened. The director knows this and plays around with that fact. Creative utilizing unsettling techniques, such as having the titular “character” speak his present day words during the flashback re-enactments, you’re never quite sure if what you’re being presented with is 100% the truth. It’s some of the best narrative-technique mirroring that’s been done in a long time. It has to be seen to be believed.
The film is a wonderful example of how you can jump from tactic to tactic without ever losing the consistency of tone. One minute it’s drenched in emotion as we focus on the grieving family who just want their son back, or at the very least know what happened to him, and the next minute it’s a tense race against the clock. That balance is not an easy thing to achieve but The Imposter pulls it off with great aplomb.
There’s a feeling of unease running throughout the film, like somehow we as the audience are being tricked. But that’s part of the beauty of it and why it’s so puzzlingly entertaining. The narrative unravels like an onion, each layer peeled away revealing a more complex, stunning and altogether mystifying set of events that provides plenty of food for thought and will leave it lingering long in the memory not just as a story on its own but as an exercise in presenting a mix of fact and fiction on-screen.
Layton so easily could have delivered this story as just a straight forward “here’s what happened” non-fiction tale and while that still would have been interesting in its own right, the far more creative thriller-like approach makes it really stand out from the crowd. Slickly put together but with a whole lot of substance to back up the technical flourishing, The Imposter stands as brilliant piece of documentary filmmaking and easily one of the best films of the year.
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