Three Identical Strangers
(Tři blízcí neznámí)
Directed by Tim Wardle
With Edward Galland, David Kellman, Robert Shafran
Life is often stranger than fiction. The documentary Three Identical Strangers looks into a case of triplets who were separated when they were given up for adoption. Each knew nothing about the existence of the others until random chance brought them together.
The story starts when one young man in 1980 goes to a community college for the first time and is recognized by his “old friends” as someone else. It turns out the young man and his doppelganger, who was at the same school a year earlier, share the same birthday and both were connected to the same exclusive adoption agency.
The story of the chance encounter made the newspapers at the time, and then a third identical triplet, with the same birthday and adoption agency, turned up due to the publicity.
The triplets became regulars on morning and afternoon talk shows, and even made an appearance in a movie. This provided the filmmakers with a lot of source material to work from. Some of the people involved in the story appear in new interview footage, and there are few re-enactments of key scenes.
These elements are blended together to show how the discovery impacted the lives of the three young men, who became inseparable, dressing alike and becoming celebrities on the 1980s party scene in New York City.
But what looked on the surface like a fairytale come true takes a truly unexpected and dark turn partway through. Some things about the adoptions were more than a little irregular. The feel-good reunion story turns into a Kafka-esque detective tale that has many more questions than answers.
The cascade of events becomes riveting, as viewers can only speculate what new twist will pop up — and it is almost never what was expected.
Documentaries are seen as poor cousins to fiction films, seldom making it to cinema screens. Perhaps due to the oversaturation of noisy, special-effects driven comic-book films in cinemas, more documentaries have been making inroads as an alternative for viewers who want something with a more realistic story and fewer explosions.
Three Identical Strangers debuted at Sundance, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling. It was also nominated for Best Documentary in the 72nd British Academy Film Awards, but oddly did not get an Oscar nomination.
The director of the documentary, Tim Wardle, is planning to be an executive producer on a dramatized feature film based on the same true story. It’s not clear what else can be added, though. The truly bizarre tale is so unbelievable it might not work in a semi-fictionalized format.