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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

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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