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Identity thief

A new British documentary showing at Dom Kino tells the unbelievable story of a serial imposter.

Published: November 21, 2012 (Issue # 1736)



  • Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old French-Algerian, managed to convince the world he was a missing 16-year-old schoolboy from Texas.
    Photo: FOR SPT

A serial imposter — and a hugely successful one at that — is the central character of an extraordinary new British documentary that starts screening at Dom Kino on Nov. 22.

“The Imposter” is the story of a lie that became larger than life. Lies are what makes the main character tick. The story unfolds as we learn about the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, a carefree 13-year-old boy with blue eyes and blond hair from San Antonio, Texas. The boy went missing in 1993, and the film shows us his sudden resurface three years later in Linares, Spain. Here is when the breathtaking con begins. The man who claimed to be Barclay was Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old French-Algerian man of frighteningly strong manipulative skills. With deep brown eyes and a hint of dark black stubble, a heavy accent and flawed English, and at seven years older than the lost boy, he effectively convinced the boy’s relatives as well as investigators — and later on, when he appeared on national TV channels, millions of ordinary Americans — that he was indeed Barclay.

It was during a television talk show that his lie was exposed: One of the experts working on the case was watching the program and comparing the fake Barclay’s face to a photograph of the real Barclay up on the wall behind the imposter during the interview. At one point, the two faces were shown from an identical angle, and it suddenly struck the investigator that the shape of the ears was glaringly different. Amazingly, no DNA test had been carried out until the ear shapes were contrasted — a revealing testimony of the trickster’s qualifications in lying.

In his debut film, director Bart Layton interweaves documentary interviews with Bourdin and the many people that he had fooled together with reconstructions of key episodes that allowed the lie first to flourish and then to be discovered.

In one way, during the 95-minute masterpiece of cinematic suspense, Bourdin gives a priceless master class in fooling people. From a person with a proven record of 39 identity thefts, it is worth a fortune.

The film shows that sometimes, direct lying is not even necessary when dealing with people who want to be fooled, and who stubbornly stick to their illusions, come what may. Yet gaining access to Bourdin’s mental laboratory is fascinating. How could an adult in his twenties successfully pretend he was a teenager of another nationality, deceiving police, social workers, diplomats and even the relatives of the person he was imitating?

Bravado and confidence are the key to success, Bourdin tells us. Covering as much of the face as possible and not talking much, imitating being in shock and deeply traumatized is another trick. The overwhelming sympathy that such behavior is likely to evoke in others will safely muffle any suspicions they may have. When facing someone who is tangibly suffering, people’s first reaction is generally to help, to attempt to sooth their pain, whether physical or moral, and the question of whether the person’s eye color does in fact match the description of someone they claim to be is left aside.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



Learn everything you always wanted to know about wine, and perhaps a bit more, at the Le Nez du Vin seminar for wine lovers. Held at the WineJet Sommelier School, 100 Bolshoy Prospekt Petrograd Side, at 7:30 p.m., the event will cover wine production, the basics of wine tasting, the concept of terroir and the various countries where wine is produced. Tickets are 750 rubles and include a wine tasting. Register by calling +7 921 744 6264.



Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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