Three Identical Strangers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Dogwoof
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (21st February 2021).
The Film

"Three Identical Strangers" (2018)

There is the saying that somewhere out there in the vast world is a person who looks exactly like you. Lookalikes of famous people are always a big draw for television and the comedy market. But what if you had an identical twin that you never knew about, and suddenly ran into that person? What if it was not only a twin, but triplets? The story of Eddy Galland, David Kellman, and Bobby Shafran encountering each other is something that is so incredible that it seems too good to be true. But in fact, it happened.

Bobby and Eddy first met in 1980 as college students when Bobby enrolled in the school that also Eddy went to. With local newspapers showing the story of the miraculous reunion, the story became even more incredible when David contacted the news to say he was the third brother. It wasn't long before the three reunited siblings were all over national talk shows, at press events, partying, and even landing cameos opposite Madonna in a scene from "Desperately Seeking Susan". The three boys were all raised in New York in very different households, with differing income, differing backgrounds, and different areas of the state. But as the continuously studied case of "nature vs. nurture" is debated, the three were completely in sync with each other. From mannerisms, habits, favorite things, taste in women, and even as they put it, pulling their pants down to see how identical they were, they were like clones rather than brothers, even though they hadn't known each others' existence for two decades.

"Three Identical Strangers" is a documentary that looks at the lives of Eddy, David, and Bobby from when they discovered each other and onward, featuring interviews with the brothers, family members, friends, and others, along with vintage home videos, news and television clips, photos, and recreated moments with body doubles to tell the full story. Documentary filmmaker Tim Wardle takes a page from Errol Morris' style of filmmaking, having the main subjects talk directly to the camera and to the audience and having a good amount of reenactment scenes to piece the memories together. Smiles from the participants are as big as they can be recalling the unbelievable moments from many years ago, giving audiences the respective feeling. But the documentary is not only about smiles and the good times. The boys may have been partying and having a wonderful time catching up with each other and enjoying their fame, but there was a lingering question among the parents: Why were they not informed of the other siblings when each child was adopted?

The documentary takes a darker turn after the question is asked. Louise Wise Services, the adoption agency where the boys were adopted from, had some questions to answer to the families who felt misled by lack of information given. Not only did they withhold information of the children being triplets, the agency had researchers sometimes visit the families to monitor the children by filming them and doing psychological tests, led by child psychiatrist Peter B. Neubauer. Unbeknownst to the families or the adopted children, Neubauer was studying cases of twins and triplets separated at birth through the adoption agency, which was under the Jewish Board of Guardians. Some of his works were published, but the lengthy study of twins and triplets were never published and the documents of the studies have been locked away in the vaults of Yale University Library. It won't be until October 25th, 2065 that the studies can be made public, and by that time many of the subjects of the case may never know about being part of the secret study. As the brothers and family members state in the documentary, there may be many more people out there with an undiscovered twin, and may never know of their existence within their lifetime. The moral issue of the studies remain controversial, even in years following Neubauer's death in 2008. The experiments do resemble what was done in Nazi Germany under the Hitler regime, and it is ironic that Neubauer was an Austrian Jew that fled Nazi Germany.

The documentary examines both the joyous and emotionally wonderful tale of reunion and discovery while also looking at the darker scope of why something like this would happen. There are lots of laughs to be heard, with hilarious stories, mishaps, and playful banter. But there are also talks of the sad story of their birth mother, mental health issues, an unexpected death, the secrets that were kept, and the darkness of discovering that they were human guinea pigs. "Three Identical Strangers" doesn't set out to point fingers at who was right or wrong, but instead looks at the inspirational side and unbelievable side of life. The editing by Michael Harte is especially wonderful, having to piece together from quite a lot of sources, which sometimes do not match well together, with interview subjects being filmed in differing locations in different angles in comparison to the brothers. One of the best documentaries of 2018, "Three Identical Strangers" is one that is profound and unforgettable, and that the bond of blood is much more than what we all know.

The film premiered at Sundance on January 19th, 2018, followed by various North American festival screenings and a few international that year, including in Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, and more throughout the rest of the year. It was nominated for dozens of awards, winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, Best Documentary at the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards, Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards, Detroit Film Critics Society Awards, and Berkshire International Film Festival, and others. It was first released on Blu-ray in the United States by Universal on Oct 2nd, 2018, and this UK Blu-ray from Dogwoof was released on Jun 10th, 2019.

Note the film was previously covered by me at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival. This review expands on the article's review.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

Dogwoof presents the film in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. As the film comes from multiple sources, with reenactment footage, new interviews, vintage TV and news clips, home videos, and old photographs, it can be inconsistent, as the old clips from video sources do look fuzzier and washed out as expected. The vintage clips are properly windowboxed and keeping the 1.33:1 ratio within the 1.85:1 frame, not cutting off heads or stretching the original image out thankfully. As for the interview segments, the colors are excellent, detail is very clear throughout. With the reenactment segments the color palate is a bit more stylized to stand out from the other portions slightly, with a darker and more bolder tone. These segments also look great throughout, though they only make up a smaller portion of the film in comparison.

The film's runtime is 96:42.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 stereo

Both 5.1 and 2.0 options are included. The 5.1 track is lossless, and for a documentary with many talking heads, the audio is heaviest in the center channel where all the dialogue is. The surrounds are used for music cues, some effects and foley in the reenactment sequences and they are used quite effectively, being balanced well against the dialogue. The 2.0 is a downmix and sounds fairly good as well.

There are no subtitles for the feature.

Extras

Audio commentary with director Tim Wardle and editor Michael Harte
Wardle and Harte discuss the production of the film, from the trust gained from the brothers and their families, the great amount of vintage material they were able to use, shooting the reenactment scenes in Canada, the very fast 18 week editing process, some of the interviews that had to be cut, and the incredible discovery of the footage seen at the end credits - being real footage of the researchers that worked for Neubauer.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Q&A with David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Tim Wardle, Brenda Galland, and Ellen Cervone (11:07)
Filmed in New York City on the film's opening weekend, the director with four of the subjects in the documentary talk about the making of, the emotional responses, and more with some spoilers as this is a post-screening Q&A.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Trailer (2:07)
The original UK trailer is presented here. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with no subtitles




The US Blu-ray also has the commentary, Q&A, and the US trailer which is basically identical to the UK's except for the Universal logo replacing the Dogwoof logo. In addition the US release includes an exclusive photo gallery. While the commentary and Q&A have some great information, but there must have been a lot of interviews cut that could have been included (as the director and editor discuss that interviews with the sisters were cut in the final edit), and some full length clips of them on the Today show and Phil Donahue's show could have been included.

Overall

"Three Identical Strangers" is a heartwarming and also heartbreaking documentary that is an unforgettable experience. Very well directed and presented, it is incredibly inspirational, joyous, and absolutely unforgettable. The Dogwoof Blu-ray has a great transfer in video and audio with good supplements, making this very recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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