Talking Movies: Three Identical Strangers, Whispering Truth to Power and Liyana

Spling reviews Three Identical Strangers, Whispering Truth to Power and Liyana as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about three documentaries, one bizarre, one political and one animated.

Starting off with…


In 1980 New York, three young men who were all adopted meet each other and find out they’re triplets who were separated at birth.

Director: Tim Wardle

Features: Robert Shafran, David Kellmman and Eddy Galland

– How would you feel if you turned a corner and saw yourself?
– This is the underlying idea behind Three Identical Strangers, a story about triplets who discovered each other at the age of 19
– Stranger than fiction, their magical reunion went viral in an age before the Internet with the triplets appearing on talk shows, in newspapers and magazines
– absorbing, entertaining and full of emotion, this documentary gets to grips with the amazing and incredible true story, piecing together television interviews, photographs and newspaper clippings with some dramatisation for effect
– while their bizarre reconnect is the focus, it moves into the territory of nature vs nurture as the young men compare their lives at the time and decades later
– as magic as it is nostalgic, the quest to find answers relating to their separation reveals a number of worrying signs as the mystery deepens
– leaning on interviews with two of the identical triplets and their close family and friends, the documentarians capture the joy and frustration of their subjects
– starting like a pulpy and surreal “believe it or not” yarn, the film shifts gear as a deep-seated conspiracy starts to surface
– with twists-and-turns to boggle the mind, it will probably be adapted into a wild mystery comedy drama with CGI to match The Social Network and a big Hollywood star, but right now this bizarre story and documentary feature is as good as it gets

An excellent 8 on the splingometer

Moving on to…


The final year in office of South Africa’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela, as she attempts to bring justice to ordinary people.

Director: Shameela Seedat

Features: Thuli Madonsela, Wenzile Una and Jacob Zuma

– the popular but controversial public protector was known for “whispering truth to power”, taken from the tradition of Venda woman elders
– using exclusive behind-the-scenes access to Madonsela, news footage, archive material and observational footage, we get a clearer picture of the dramatic final year in office for the public protector
– this political documentary seeks to uncover the advocate, mother and woman, reflecting some of her career-defining moments… giving an impression of her through the eyes of her adult children and seeing how she has managed to remain calm, cool and collected in the face of death threats and misinformation
– while Whispering Truth to Power doesn’t go very deep, it is quite comprehensive, relaying details around her influence, matters involving the Nkandla homestead, mismanaged community funds, white monopoly capital and reports on state capture
– while centred on Madonsela, there is a secondary focus on her daughter’s political views, following her involvement with the EFF at the University of Pretoria
– starting with airborne shots contrasting poorer communities with wealthier areas, the filmmakers echo South Africa’s reputation for being one of the most unequal societies in the world
– the documentary is informative, revealing why Madonsela deserves praise and examining how her calm approach was instrumental in curtailing corruption at the highest level
– playing out in real-time, it leverages the underlying tension of the political period and encapsulates her character and firm, no-nonsense approach

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally…


Five orphaned children from Swaziland craft an original fairy tale about a girl on a perilous journey.

Directors: Aaron and Amanda Kopp

Features: Gcina Mhlope

– Mhlope is known for her storytelling and serves as the narrative guide in this original documentary
– part documentary, part animation, Liyana is the tale of a young girl who resolves to embark on a rescue mission as told by several orphans
– while the storytelling concept is at the heart of the film, there is an underlying cathartic effect as the collective memories and imaginations of these young kids intermingle experience with fiction
– beautifully animated stills are brought to life through heartfelt storytelling and sound effects as interview style documentary film-making and animation coexist
– situated in the lush hills of Swaziland, the artistic rendering is complemented by equally appealing cinematography and a vivid soundtrack
– while you would expect the storytelling to be somewhat na├»ve, it’s tempered by the challenging world these orphans have grown up in
– the concept works remarkably well and taps into some of Swaziland’s deeper social challenges, while remaining sincere, heartfelt and at times funny
– with approximately one in every four adults infected with HIV, Swaziland has a desperately high infection rate, which has had a direct impact on the number of orphans
– original, touching and captivating, Liyana is a short, sharp and sweet hybrid of a film driven by its natural charm and the power of storytelling

An excellent 8 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS… bizarre, mind-boggling and controversial, this entertaining documentary keeps you guessing… an excellent 8!

WHISPERING TRUTH TO POWER… a dignified and multi-faceted overview of Madonsela’s character, diplomacy and overarching influence… A solid 7!

LIYANA… a smart, original hybrid concept underpins this charming, moving and magical African tale… An excellent 8!

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!