“Three Identical Strangers” will blow your mind, while “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf” will bring it down to earth and calm it. Both open tomorrow and in a sense, they’re about the same thing: nature versus nurture. In Three Identical Strangers, it’s about a horrendously unethical study done on a number of unknowing, adopted twin children; in Five Seasons, it’s about nurturing the wild in a controlled environment and letting nature take its course.
Robert Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland were triplets separated at birth, whose adoptions were handled by the “prestigious” Louise Wise Adoption Services in Manhattan. Each went to a Jewish family in the New York suburbs, knowing nothing of the others’ existence; their parents were never told there were other brothers; a good deal of the upfront part of the movie is the extraordinarily serendipitous story of how they discover one another and the enormous media storm that followed.
Robert (Bobby) Shafran, now in his mid-50s explains how, at age 19, he found out he had a twin brother. At Sullivan Community College, a place he’s never been before, people greet him like an old friend, girls kissing him and saying “Eddy’s back!” Eddy had attended but left school the prior year. (There are recreations of scenes interspersed with actual footage.)
When Bobby tells Eddy’s friend, “I’m not Eddy,” he’s told, well you have a twin! And they proceed to call Eddy’s parents to connect them. The reunion is nothing short of amazing. Two nearly exact lookalikes, with the same taste in women, engaged in the same sport (wrestling), smoking the same brand of cigarettes. Newspapers hail it as the human interest story of the year.
But then a friend of David’s shares the newspaper images with him and says, “You look just like these guys.” Now the twins’ story morphs into a triplet story…with one mother saying, “They’re coming out of the woodwork!” and the media falling over itself to turn them into celebrities on TV and in print. They moved in together, partied at Studio 54, and even opened their own restaurant.
But things turn dark, when the brothers and parents begin to question why they were never told there were other siblings, and as memories of their childhoods come back to them, including blind rages, head banging, and the fact that they were being studied regularly, like lab rats, by the agency’s minions.
The agency told parents they were studying adopted children, but in fact they were conducting a secret, never published, psychological study of twins and triplets to examine the “nature vs. nurture,” genetics versus environment, debate. Each boy was deliberately placed with a family that had a non-twin adopted daughter, one into a shopkeeper’s working-class family, another middle-class with a teacher for a father, and the third with a wealthy lawyer.
As Bobby says, “This is, like, Nazi shit.”
There are many twists, turns and stunning surprises in this film, but to tell you about them would be to give away plot points. Suffice to say, it will keep you in your seats with eyes and ears glued to the screen; and you’ll be thinking about it long after you leave the theatre.
Don’t miss “Three Identical Strangers,” opening on Friday, June 29 at the Landmark in West LA and Arclight in Hollywood.
Dutch garden and landscape designer Piet Oudollf has many gardens to his credit, but perhaps one of his best known is the elevated High Line in New York City. This converted rail track has become one of the most popular places for locals and tourists in Manhattan.
Its plants are a mixture of perennial grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, each with its own story and unique purpose (such as fixing nitrogen in soil) and all presenting something of interest to look at across every season, whether it’s a shading of color as the plant dies back, seed pods offering textures and sounds or the blooms and blossoms.
Now 73, in his 20s Oudolf began working in a garden center, where he says, “I met plants.” And they became his lifelong passion. He and his wife bought a property in Hummelo, Netherlands, where they began growing and selling plants, and as his plant knowledge grew exponentially, he branched out into design.
Time is as important as the plants he uses. “A garden is a promise of what will be there,” he says, and points out that “Plants are my characters; I put them on stage. I cannot control them, I can only conduct.” While his gardens look wild, he says, “This is what you’d want to see in nature.” His work is a celebration of diversity in the face of extinction.
His drawings are art pieces themselves; in fact, the renowned gallery Hauser and Wirth not only hired him to create their Garden at Durslade Farm in Somerset, England— which in time lapse we see being designed, laid out, stocked and then in bloom—but also created an exhibition around his intriguing design drawings, with their meandering shapes and multicolored squiggles and lines.
This wonderful, quiet and meditative movie is the perfect antidote to the political storms raging across our social landscape these days. Director Thomas Piper will be in the house for Q&A at Laemmle’s Royal in West L.A. following the 7:30 screening on June 29.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.