There were critics who drew comparisons with Twin Peaks, because of its enigmatic atmosphere, rural locations and what might be a murder mystery. Some of the people in the film talk of a miracle, a religiously tinged way to describe the chance encounter that brought three siblings together. The most interesting aspect of this documentary is the power of manipulation. As we begin to question everything in it, there are barely any answers. But that’s what’s so impressive about The Gullspång Miracle, that the filmmakers still hold our attention all the way through.
A strange story to tell
The story began with two of the women in this film reaching out to the documentary department at SVT, the Swedish public TV broadcaster, where Maria Fredriksson was working. She started talking to the Norwegian sisters who had a very strange story to tell. Some time ago, they were temporarily living in Sweden, looking for an apartment to buy. At one place, they saw a triptych of paintings hanging on a wall and interpreted it as a sign from God. When they met the woman selling the apartment, Olaug, they were startled to see how much she looked like their dead sister Lita.
All three of them recognized this moment as significant and took a DNA test, proving that Olaug was in fact their half-sister, Lita’s twin who had been sent away at birth during the war out of fear that the occupying Nazis would do experiments on the twins. As if this wasn’t astonishing enough, that was only the beginning of the story.
Things take a turn
Even if May and Kari never intended to star in this documentary, they are front and center, together with their new-found sister Olaug. But things take a turn, to put it mildly. After some time, the relationship between the sisters had soured somewhat. Their differences started clashing. May and Kari come from northern Norway and are deeply religious. This made Olaug uncomfortable; she was raised in a more prosperous household and lived in a city, where she took her independence and modern lifestyle seriously.
There was also the issue of Lita’s death. In 1988, her lifeless body was found near a lake and the authorities ruled it a suicide. Her religious family had always considered Lita’s death particularly painful because of the sin she had committed. Olaug, who wanted to know more about her sister, started looking into the case and learned that Lita most likely did not commit suicide. The autopsy report was never shared with the family, but made it look more probable that she died accidentally. Later on in the film, May and Kari accept this, and are relieved to some extent… but Olaug has a different opinion. There are circumstances that lead her to believe that Lita was murdered, and she refuses to let the matter rest.
Fredriksson remains cool-headed enough to structure the film in a way that creates an even flow of surprises.
I have almost revealed too much of what happens in this film. Rest assured, there’s even more. Fredriksson’s frustration is on-camera, as she angrily asks the sisters what on earth is going on after one particularly strange twist. Another scene makes an accident involving a lamp look like there are supernatural forces at work, a sign of the director losing her grip a little bit… but she remains cool-headed enough to structure the film in a way that creates an even flow of surprises, adding to the tension.
She’s immensely helped by her ”characters”, not least Olaug who shows disturbing signs of being blind to the obvious and making false assumptions. It’s easy to become as obsessed as Fredriksson in trying to learn more about this curious case. Wherever you turn, there are dead ends and, at the same time, new possibilities.
The Gullspång Miracle 2023-Sweden-Norway-Denmark. 108 min. Color. Produced by Ina Holmqvist. Written and directed by Maria Fredriksson.
Trivia: Original title: Miraklet i Gullspång.
Last word: “It has been a lot of digging and sleepless nights. At one frustrating point I felt I had a responsibility towards the audience to find and present answers to every question out there. I got very involved in the story, you could say. But then I realized that I as a filmmaker shouldn’t pursue anything at all, if the people I’m filming suddenly decide they are better off not getting the black and white truth. It would be crossing an ethical line if I continued to seek answers when they did not want to know more, just because I wanted to know.” (Fredriksson, Filmmaker Magazine)