Review: The Gullspång Miracle
- Maria Fredriksson’s debut feature tells an eerie story of family reunification that gradually develops into a stranger-than-fiction mystery-drama
Maria Fredriksson’s debut feature, The Gullspång Miracle [+see also:
film profile], is certainly one of a kind. The documentary starts off as an unusual story of family reunification but later takes an unexpectedly dark, mysterious turn. The Swedish-Norwegian-Danish co-production was world-premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is also taking part in the Memories strand of Sheffield DocFest.
In Fredriksson’s film, first we find out that a divine premonition has led two sixty-something sisters, May and Kari, to buy a flat in the small Swedish town of Gullspång. Unexpectedly, the seller, a woman called Olaug, looks identical to May and Kari’s older sister, Lita, who committed suicide sometime in July 1988. The three of them decide to take a DNA test together, and they find out that they are indeed sisters, and that Olaug is Lita’s lost twin. Olaug was apparently registered with a different date of birth and was given away by her father to another family. Back in the day, twins were one of the Reich’s obsessions and were often used for medical experiments, so they had the choice of either living in secrecy or being separated.
Olaug grew up in a wealthy family on the other side of Norway and embarked on a brilliant career in the army. On the other hand, May, Kari, their sister Solveig and their brother Arnt spent their younger days in a tiny house in a small town and grew up in a very religious environment.
All of this leads us to believe that we will be witnessing the story of a “miraculous” reunification with a rather predictable happy ending. But this is not the case, as Olaug’s background and ideas will soon clash with those of her newfound family – resulting in unpleasant thoughts (and words) from both sides. May and Kari are particularly surprised at how Olaug’s mannerisms and looks are identical to their late sister’s, but how her personality is totally the opposite.
Meanwhile, Olaug seems determined to find out what happened to Lita. She is not convinced by her family’s explanation about her twin sister’s death, and she begins questioning the whole police investigation and later her own kinship, asking for a new DNA test.
What comes after is surprising, surreal and disquieting, to say the least. The Gullspång Miracle evolves into a sort of stranger-than-fiction mystery-drama about identity, family secrets and the need to believe. The whole second part of the picture delivers a bizarre, Twin Peaks-like feel, perhaps deliberately enhanced by the frequent shots depicting a photo of the young Lita in front of the same wooden background, which may loosely bring to mind that of Laura Palmer.
The closing sequence and the weird post-credit voicemail left by Olaug leave us in total distress, up to the point where we may start questioning whether all of this is just made up by some of the people involved, or even by the filmmaker herself.
The truth is, we will probably never know. Nonetheless, the mystery and the feeling of puzzlement left in us by this film make it a peculiar, gripping cinematic object that’s hard to forget.
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