Unchained at SXSW: “The Imposter”

In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappeared from his home in San Antonio,Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive thousands of miles away in Spain with a shocking story of kidnap and torture. His family are overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not what it seems. He bears many of the same marks but why does he have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? And why doesn’t the family notice these glaring inconsistencies? It’s only when an investigator starts asking questions that this astonishing true story takes an even stranger turn…

People, if someone claims to be your long-lost son, demand a blood test immediately. It’s just common sense. Similar to DREAMS OF A LIFE, this film really intrigued me with the use of reenactments. I really wish I’d stayed for the Q&A with director Bart Layton to learn more about this ludicrous true story. To summarize, the documentary blends live interviews with actor reenactment to tell the case of a missing American boy found a few years later in Spain. However, cue *dun dun dun* music, he is not the missing boy, but in fact a 23-year-old French con man. I missed this film at Sundance and I got up extra early to make sure I saw it at SXSW. What did I learn? The art of pacing. This documentary could have easily been a narrative due to the well-executed storytelling techniques. At first, the audience is given the standard six o’clock news synopsis from the real missing boy’s family. Then we’re thrust into meeting the reenactment actor playing the French con man, who portrays almost as a narrator of the case. Inter-cut between that are real photos, reenactments with actors playing the family, government officials and a younger version of the con man. Are you lost yet? At one point the present day con man speaks to the actor playing the younger version of himself which breaks that fourth wall so disturbingly perfectly. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of humor in the final third act twist, which is a reveal I saw coming but was still locked in until the very final scene. This is a must-see film if I’ve ever seen one.

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