Two Imposters, One of Them Can StayJanuary 25th, 2012 | Posted by in Sundance Film Festival
Compliance has earned wildly mixed reviews here at Sundance, and I feel it’s successful for that reason alone, even though it’s a filthy piece of work.
The drama puts the employees of a fast food restaurant through an incredible scenario orchestrated by a prank caller. Posing as a police officer, he contacts the store manager and makes her an unwitting ally in a plot against a pretty cashier, whom he accuses of stealing money from a customer’s purse. The manager quarantines the young woman, and for the remaining duration of the film she is subjected to a series of dehumanizing acts illustrate how some bend to the will of others without true resistance.
I think writer-director Craig Zobel slips up by placing value judgments on his characters, especially in the film’s coda. And the lurid camerawork is as sleazy as the true events that inform Zobel’s work. This is especially questionable and perhaps short-sighted filmmaking from a guy who has worked with David Gordon Green from George Washington through Undertow.
More successful is The Imposter, an immersive missing person documentary that reveals one person’s fraud and one family’s potential crime and cover up.
13-year-old Nicholas Barclay vanished from his San Antonio neighborhood in 1994. Some three years later, a young man in Spain materialized, claiming to be Nicholas. We’re introduced to this man, Frédéric Bourdin, at the beginning of The Imposter, and he guides us through how he duped authorities on both sides of the Atlantic and was accepted by the Barclay family as being Nicholas.
Keep in mind that Nicholas was a blonde haired, blue-eyed boy with a small frame at the time of his disappearance, and Frédéric, who was in his early 20s when he posed as the boy, was a Frenchman who bleached his dark hair the day he was reunited with his would-be sister and had three small tattoos inked on him according to Nicholas’ missing person report.
Wait, a tattooed 13-year-old boy?
That’s when I felt a greater sense of curiosity and suspicion about the Barclay family history, and director Bart Layton does a fantastic job at balancing Frédéric’s amoral deception with a sense of Nicholas’ true fate; he even lassos in a private eye who provides bits of welcome comic relief as he takes up the case against the Barclays.
A&E IndieFilms is behind the work, which plays like a superior TV documentary. That’s a polite way of saying I’m surprised this was programmed at a top-ranking film festival, but it is definitely worth seeing as Nicholas’ case remains open.
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