By Jack Dignan
Imagine walking down the street one day, turning a corner and coming face to face with an identical twin you never knew you had. How would you react? What would you be thinking? Could this be real? Surely it’s not. But at the same time, it is. What would you do? Who would you call? There’s a lot of explaining that needs to be done, but before you even get your mind wrapped around this puzzling situation, a third stranger arrives, and once again, they’re completely identical. You are, as it turns out, a triplet, and you’ve just met the brothers you never knew you had. While different and far more complex in execution, this is the basic premise of Three Identical Strangers.
In 1979, Eddy Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran were three completely anonymous young adults each making their way in the world. In 1980, they were brothers, and after a lifetime of separation, they finally became inseparable. It’s a story that shook the world, and one I was, thankfully, not familiar with, which allowed this documentary to completely take me by surprise. Their story is so twisted, so shocking and so powerful that it demands to be seen. You haven’t heard a story like this before.
What starts as a sort of quirky, hilarious, fun-loving story of triplets separated at birth and rekindled by accident decades later slowly evolves in a dark, unfathomable examination of humanity. If you’re not familiar with this story already, don’t Google it. Tim Wardle’s impressive documentary continues to unravel new layer upon new layer throughout the entirety of its 96 minute runtime, and the further down this rabbit hole they fall, the closer your jaw will be to hitting the ground.
It’s such a powerfully constructed exploration of human genealogy, nature vs. nurture, and the significance and perils of attempting to manipulate human life. Details are difficult to discuss without delving into spoiler territory, but the gradual tonal shift is a welcomed one. The second half in particular adapts a much darker approach to tell this story, leaving you frustrated at the events that transpired, and are probably still transpiring to this day. These events didn’t just stop in the 80s. The repercussions are still being felt, and when the final credits rolled, I just sat in the theatre in stunned silence.
The two remaining triplets, David and Robert, are the main voices behind this haunting documentary, but their charming well-spoken manner makes their narrative all the more delightful. You’re constantly sitting there, eagerly anticipating the next word. It’s not always told in chronological order, instead choosing to reveal new bits of information over the course of the film and reflecting upon its impact of the past, but it completely works. You feel the impact of the shock just as much as these real people do, and it ends on a note that leaves the film open to further discussions.
However, this ending does seem to leave its themes in a very conclusive state, to the point where they pretty much spell out what this entire film means. It’s an ending that could’ve used a little more subtlety. I get it, it’s a documentary, they’re meant to be informative, but at that moment they’d already given us enough information that I’d pieced together my own take-away, and having it spelt out does leave the film on somewhat of a sour note. However, the journey getting there is one you can’t possibly miss. This story is big - bigger than you’re probably anticipating. If you don’t experience it for yourself, you’re just doing yourself a disservice.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like:
By Jack Dignan
The only documentary I managed to catch at this year's festival (yes, I'm still reviewing movies from the Sydney Film Festival. Sorry) was a film called Life, Animated, and while this may have been the only documentary I saw, I highly doubt there was a better one that played. Life, Animated is the story of Owen Suskind, who at a very young age was diagnosed with autism. We follow his journey, as well as his family's journey, throughout Owen's life as he tries to mature and get ready for the real world, as well as reflecting on how his love for animated Disney movies helped to overcome a lot of problems in life.
Moving and inspiring, Life, Animated is a meaningful and important voyage into the world of autism and the power of cinema. Owen Suskind serves as the main subject of this powerful documentary, and his tale is quite the uplifting one. It goes from being a tear jerker to being incredibly heart warming, all without hesitation. It's a captivating look at autism, too, showing not just the effects on the individual, but their friends and family. We not only get glimpses of his past, some of which will put you to tears and other parts will make you smile with glee, but we also get discussions of what's to happen in the future, and it's all vastly fascinating.
As a film, it isn't perfect. It definitely tries to manipulate its way into your heart and some aspects of it can drag, but the manipulating worked and I was invested. Since a big aspect of Owen's life is animation, and as that is what helps him to communicate and rationalise his thoughts, the documentary drifts between the real world and an animated world. While the animation was very basic, this isn't a problem. It works with the style of the movie, and helps flesh out the stories being narrated to us, and there's an especially great sequence in which we get an animated version of a book Owen has written. It's a brilliant sequence in a brilliant movie. You need to see this film. Now.
Before you yell at me and call me a pirate and ask me how I saw this film so early you should look up this thing called Vudu... Anyway, Life Itself is a documentary about Roger Ebert, a man who could safely be described as one of the most, if not the most famous film critic of all time. The film is based on Ebert's autobiography of the same title, and it tells his life story as told through narrated voice over and a series of interviews from Ebert's friends and family. Of course, there's no interviews from Ebert himself due to his unfortunate passing last year, but there is, however, a fair amount of footage that was filmed of him in the later stages of his life, which I'm sure will arouse tears from many audience members.
Never before have I seen a documentary so powerful, captivating and emotional. I wouldn't consider myself an avid documentary watcher, but I definitely wouldn't say that I don't watch documentaries either. Of course I do, that's why I review them. Life Itself is one of the best documentaries I've seen in my life, and this is coming from someone who's not necessarily the biggest Roger Ebert fan. He wasn't a person that I grew up with or that I checked in on every day. I'm not going to blame the fact that I'm Australian, but it's probably because I'm Australian. He wasn't in any way the reason why I wanted to review films. I've read a few of his reviews, but only because of his passing. They're great, don't get me wrong, but I feel it's too late to really appreciate him like others do. Fortunately, I still love this documentary.
Despite not being an Ebert fanboy, Life Itself perfectly capsulated his life and his career in a way that made me care. It got me invested in a topic, or life, I had only a mild interest in. In fact, it got me more interested in the topics than documentaries that are discussing topics I was interested in prior to watching the film. Just look at this year's Doc of the Dead. I'm way more interested in zombies than I was Roger Ebert, yet I found this film a heck of a lot more interesting.
It focusses on Ebert's life, but it's a film about so much more than that. It's about friends, film, family, cancer, love, loss and life. It's got things to say, important things, and it says them with such passion and emotion, particularly the insights from Ebert's wife, Chaz, who's discussion of her husband can get challenging to watch. But what was even more challenging to watch was the footage from Ebert in hospital, or more specifically, the scenes where he's being treated. It's graphic, real and confronting. Three words to describe a masterful documentary.
To sum up, Life Itself is a confronting, emotional and powerful documentary about the life of film critic Roger Ebert. The insight from friends and family is emotional, the topics are broad and the execution is glorious. Even as someone who's not too big an Ebert fan, this film spoke to me.
4 1/2 Stars
Deepsea Challenge is the latest documentary from James Cameron, director of such classics as The Terminator, Aliens and the more recent Avatar. For many years Cameron has been exploring the depths of the ocean, desperate to see as much of it as possible. Now, Cameron is trying to do something nobody has done before: dive down to the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in the ocean, in a one-man dive. His goal is big and the depth is even bigger, not to mention how isolated it is. Deepsea Challenge documents the preparation for such a voyage, the tests needed to undergo it, the stress it places on Cameron's family and, what we're all here to see, the actual voyage itself.
This voyage is proven to be a more personal vendetta to Cameron than what the trailers advertised and the news reported on. This documentary gives, as most documentaries should, more insight into the overall shenanigans that take place. James Cameron, who narrates over the film as well as cutting between interviews, explains to us how he's always been a curious person, starting from when he was just a child. These flashbacks are shown in the form of short films, which I couldn't help but giggle like a school-girl at. Despite making a documentary, Cameron can't help but implant his skills as a filmmaker too. While I laughed, I have nothing against it. It's actually rather clever how his shorts are incorporated into the overall story, and for that I thank him.
With so much time dedicated to the determination of Cameron, two things must be mentioned. The first is that I was incredibly thankful that Cameron comes across as a nice guy, as we're stuck with him for an hour and a half. He's a joy to watch doing his thing on screen, which brings me to my second point. We really get a sense of who this guy is when he's not behind the camera. He's a dedicated and loving man with a childlike charisma to suit. There's even a joyous scene where we get to see him bring his family in to explore the sub, one that just give him a bit of character. Wait, can I use the word character in a documentary review? Oh I don't know.
While it's all well and dandy to hang out with the Cameron-o-nator, we're given a little too much time to bond. The film, as it rightfully should be, is the James Cameron show. It's all about him, which I'm fine with. What I'm not fine with is how much extra on-screen time is given to showing him wander around or repetitively take us through the way everything works or the meetings the crew have to sit through. The voyage just seems to turn into a sub-plot in comparison to the story of Cameron's life.
Delightful at times, gut wrenching at others, this isn't a job that appeals to me. I'm happy to watch this stuff, but there's no need for me to live it. It goes well beyond proving the dangers of this job, but also the stress. Even as an audience member, sitting at home on my couch, I could feel the stress this crew was dealing with, particularly when it comes to the loss of a crew member, which I wouldn't consider that big a spoiler, in case you were wondering.
Adding to this stress is the repeated testing and re-testing. It just feels like it's going on and on and on. They're necessary tests, but they're not necessary pieces of entertainment. There's no need to show every single test made, and in great detail at that. Perhaps it's because there wasn't enough documented to last for a full 90 minutes, but I would much rather have spent more time at the depths than on the surface.
To sum up, Deepsea Challenge fails to evenly distribute the onscreen journeys, focussing too much on the personal journey of Cameron than it does on the literal journey. Although this is a major flaw, the documentary does a lot right too, particularly in the way of making the whole thing rather entertaining.
3 1/2 Stars
Don't forget to join in on the month long celebration of horror with #ScaryMovieMonthAtDCM
Doc of the Dead is for horror fans, made by horror fans. More specifically, it's for zombie fans. I would, however, argue that any horror fan would do. In Doc of the Dead we're taken through the history and evolution of zombies in films, as well as in mainstream culture. We begin with their beginning, followed by their evolution and rise to fame, particularly through George A. Romero, and then finally to the modern day zombies, with films such as Shaun of the Dead and the TV show The Walking Dead being its greatest examples. While it could have been a whole lot better than the final product is, Doc of the Dead is a welcoming addition to the horror documentary family.
As a horror fan, I was enthralled by this movie. I love horror, duh, and I love zombies, double duh, so I was naturally looking forward to seeing this documentary. A few of the sections drag, which I'll get to soon, but for the most part this film works. With a lineup of celebrities such as Bruce Campbell, who hilariously explains how he'd ditch his family if a zombie apocalypse were to take place, Simon Pegg, George A. Romero and many others, Doc of the Dead rarely fails to entertain. The interviews, cutting incredibly well between that and actual movie footage or relevant events such as the zombie parade, are intriguing, informative and sometimes hilarious to watch. A few of the celebrities can drift off every now and again, but when they're on topic they struggle to fail. They're happy to be there and I'm happy to watch.
The runtime is a mere 81 minutes, but they really have to stretch to fill it up. It's very clear that they had a plan and that they were trying to stick to their plan, but they clearly didn't have a big enough plan. The film, which is short, sharp and mostly to the point, flies by. While this technically counts as staying in the topic of zombies, discussing how The Walking Dead porn parody breaks every rule already set up by the porn industry wasn't necessary. It was tedious, awkward and mostly irrelevant. What's even worse about it is that it takes up a good five to six minutes of the film's length too, easily the worst five to six minutes in the whole film.
There's so much more that this film could have spent its time discussing, but didn't. It wastes a bit of time on zombies in modern culture, which was a decent segment, but has way too much time spent on it, and, of course, the porn parody section was just ridiculously bad. I enjoyed this film, despite my ramblings, but it could have been a whole lot better than it was. It could easily have explored the joys of zombies, or more so why we enjoy watching rotting bodies eat other, inanimate rotting bodies. They could have explored what the appeal is or how it appeals differently to different people. The film, by all means, isn't bad, but it had so much more to explore that it failed to do so.
To sum up, Doc of the Dead is an occasionally hilarious and always enjoyable documentary with a great line-up of celebrities, but it really could have spent more time on the appeal of zombies and less on their appearances in porn.
3 1/2 Stars