The DVD Report #590

Three Identical Strangers is an amazing documentary that plays like the best of fictional detective stories.

The story begins in 1980 when 19-year-old Robert (Bobby) Shafran begins college in a small town in upstate New York. Greeted by many young people on campus as “Eddy,” it is obvious that he is being mistaken for someone else. A friend of “Eddy” (Eddy Galland) deduces that Bobby is Eddy’s twin and that the two must have been separated at birth. They arrange an immediate meeting at Eddy’s house on Long Island. The story makes headlines in the local newspapers where David Kellman sees it and realizes that he is also Eddy and Bobby’s double. The overnight twins are now overnight triplets. Raised in different New York City suburbs, one (Eddy) is well off, one (Bobby) is middle-class, and one (David) is from a struggling family of immigrants. All three knew that they were adopted as infants but neither they nor their adopted parents were aware of any family relationships.

The boys became instant celebrities who were invited on every extant TV talk show. They moved together into an apartment in Greenwich Village where they became part of the New York party scene and eventually opened a popular restaurant of their own in the city. Despite their euphoria, however, there were questions that the boys’ adoptive parents wanted answers to.

A trip to the agency from which all three were adopted failed to provide many answers. The boys were six months old when separated. Why they were separated elicited only the response that “nobody wants triplets” to which the poorest of the fathers replies that he would have taken all three. When one of the fathers realizes he had forgotten his umbrella at the agency, he goes back to retrieve it, catching the executives at the agency breaking open a bottle of champagne and looking very much like they were relieved to have dodged a bullet in not divulging any real information. Something was obviously amiss.

The plot thickens to unlock similarities in the boys’ behavior at certain times in their lives and the discovery that all three were monitored over time by the agency. This discovery leads to the unmasking of a terrible secret inherent in the discourse of nature vs. nurture as the film comes to its unsettling conclusion.

Universal’s Blu-ray and DVD both contain a question and answer session that is provided as an extra featuring director Tom Wardle with two of the brothers and twin sisters who were also separated at birth at the same agency.

Adoption is also at the center of The Official Story, the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, given a beautifully restored Blu-ray upgrade by Cohen Media Group.

Norma Aleandro won the New York Film Critics Circle award as Best Actress for her vivid portrayal of an upper-class Argentinian wife and high school teacher in Buenos Aries. She won in a close contest over Cher in Mask and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. The Oscar went to Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful in a year that also gave us Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple, Coral Browne in Dreamchild, and Anne Bancroft in Agnes of God. It was quite a year for the ladies.

Taking place shortly after the collapse of the “dirty war” of the military regime that controlled the country from 1976-1983, Aleandro, with the urging of her students and a left-wing fellow teacher, begins to question the background of her five-year-old adopted daughter brought home as an infant by her husband with ties to the former regime. Like her students, she begins to question the “official story” of the regime that conducted the dirty war in which thousands of dissidents were murdered by the government and their children taken away and adopted by well-to-do families.

Aleandro’s quest leads her to a woman who may be her daughter’s biological grandmother who tells a heart-wrenching story of her daughter and son-in-law who were childhood friends who disappeared a year after they were married as 18-year-olds when her daughter was close to giving birth. A picture of the woman’s daughter as a child bears a striking resemblance to Aleandro’s adopted daughter. Maria Luisa Rubledo’s understated portrayal of the grandmother is unforgettable, matching in just a few scenes Aleandro’s wonderful portrayal of the woman slowly comprehending the truth about her own existence. A quick check of the IMDb revealed that not only was Rubledo a well-known Argentinian actress with credits going back to 1947, but the actress, who died in 2005 at the age of 93, was Aleandro’s real-life mother.

Extras include a new four-part interview with director Luis Puenzo and a feature on the film’s restoration.

Margaret Craven’s 1967 novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name became a New York Times number one bestseller when released in the U.S. in 1973. Beautifully filmed in British Columbia, a TV movie was quickly made and shown just before Christmas of that year and has been in frequent rotation on TV ever since. It’s been given an excellent HD transfer from Shout! Factory which has released it on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Tom Courtenay, who emerged as one of the bright young stars of the 1960s in such films as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Billy Lair, King Rat, Operation Crossbow, and Doctor Zhivago, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, has since had two major big screen comebacks. One was in the 1980s when he was again nominated for an Oscar for The Dresser and the other more recently in 45 Years and TV’s Unforgotten, for which he won a BAFTA.

Courtenay’s best role between the 1960s and 1980s was as the young Anglican priest in Vancouver, British Columbia reassigned by his bishop to a remote parish in an native village up the Canadian coast where he comes expecting to lead the locals but instead learns about life from them.

Taking place between two Christmases, the film is highly reminiscent of 1944’s The Keys of the Kingdom in which young Scottish Catholic priest Gregory Peck is reassigned by his bishop to a remote Chinese village where he has the same epiphany. The difference is that Courtenay’s experience lasts just a year whereas Peck’s lasts a lifetime. He is given excellent support from Dean Jagger as his bishop and Paul Stanley, Marianne Jones, George Clutesi, and Margaret Atleo as the most memorable of his native parishioners.

At the other end of the spectrum of new Blu-ray and DVD releases is Eighth Grade a mostly annoying film about a middle-schooler who makes self-deprecating videos for YouTube. Why some critics have compared this drivel to last year’s sublime Lady Bird is beyond my comprehension.

This week’s new releases include long awaited Blu-ray releases of Shampoo and Antz.

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