'The Gullspang Miracle' review: Bloodline mysteries meet true crime in gripping Scandinavian documentary

‘The Gullspang Miracle’ review: Bloodline mysteries meet true crime in gripping Scandinavian documentary

The amusement park water ride featured in the introductory minutes of Gullspang’s Miracle doesn’t begin to hint at the wild emotional roller coaster the film is about to unfold. Contacted by two sisters in their 60s who had made a thrilling discovery – an older sister, someone they never suspected existed – director Maria Fredriksson became the confidante of all three women, as well as the chronicler of their fluctuating attitudes against the unexpected kinship. The resulting work of hers, her first feature-length documentary, is a stunning and deftly structured exploration of serendipity, faith, social divisions, family ties, and personal identity. She delves into some of the same themes they created Three identical strangers compelling vision, but his canvas is one of a kind, a vigorous mix that also includes a disturbing unsolved crime, complete with Lynchian echoes of Twin peaks.

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Fredriksson does not hide his role in telling this complex story. The film begins with her director sisters, May and Kari, who enter a snow-white kitchen in Gullspang, Sweden, to describe to the camera the epiphany experienced in that very room. They do several takes, Fredriksson encourages them to be more “technical”, less actors. They are happy to obey, the story they are telling full of joy and amazement. At least for a while.

Gullspang’s Miracle

The bottom line

Fasten your seat belt.

Place: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)
Director: Maria Fredriksson

1 hour and 49 minutes

The event they’re reenacting revolves, strangely, around a framed embroidery. Recovering from an injury caused by running in the water while visiting Kari in Sweden, May embarked on a mission to fill up the spare time before she could return home to Norway: She went real estate shopping. But her main goal was to find a particular type of still life to hang in whatever home she could find. Walking into the kitchen of an apartment for sale in Gullspang, she saw what she was looking for, in all its astounding glory of hers. Most people would have seen a standard fruit still life. For May, that hanging was an answered prayer. Kari, noticing that it was the centerpiece of a triptych of decorative pieces, saw a sign of the Christian Trinity, a blessing.

Then they met the woman who was selling the apartment, and the miracle deepened: Olaug was the spitting image of their sister Astrid, known to all as Lita, who committed suicide in 1988. After some genealogical research and a DNA test, Olaug was welcomed into the fold as the half-sister May and Kari never knew they had, the twin separated at birth to their beloved Lita.

Self Three identical strangers looks head-on at the unbridled cruelty of scientific experimentation, Gullspang’s Miracle recognizes the consequences of escape. In 1941, when Lita and Olaug were born in occupied Norway, cautious parents and midwives knew that twins were a problem that needed to be covered up – or sent their separate ways – because of the Nazis’ gruesome fixation on them as raw material for medical experiments. That angle alone would make this a fascinating story. But there are many more angles to come, some of them uncharacteristically wrenching.

Tracing the branches of the family tree is not Fredriksson’s job. The marriages of the father of the three women, for example, are never explained and in the present, beyond a few mentions of husbands and exes, the film maintains a laser focus on the brothers. That group soon widens to include Kari and May’s brother Arnt and their sister Solveig. Olaug also meets Lita’s daughter and her nanny who took care of little Lita while her parents tend their crops.

In the heady first days of the shocking revelation, Olaug, who never knew she was a twin, describes her lifelong feeling that something was missing: the primal pang of a twin torn from her sister? Kari remembers Lita confiding about her deep and vague feelings of loss of her. Lita’s 30-year footage reveals an undeniable resemblance between her and Olaug, who eagerly points out their physical similarities to the filmmakers and, in his home full of tchotchkes and antiques, finds a place of honor to hang a picture of his newly discovery. Another photo of Lita, a formal portrait, is on display at Kari’s house in a sort of shrine, and when Pia Lehto’s nimble camera pans across it, it’s a haunting reminder of Lita’s portrait. Twin peaks‘ Laura Palmer – who, like Lita, was found dead by a lake.

Olaug doesn’t just question the suicide story, he seeks answers from the police, whose autopsy report was apparently never shared with the family. And though the findings are a source of comfort to May, Kari, Arnt and Solveig, a schism that has given way to the uncomfortable surface cracks with Olaug’s constant questioning and his insistence that Lita was murdered. His investigations, and those of Fredriksson, are enlightening as well as disturbing, and eventually break through layers of resistance to touch hearts and minds. It is differences in class and temperament that prove far more difficult to bridge.

Kari and May’s enthusiasm gives way to hurt and resentment, and it’s increasingly clear that Olaug, after their initial enthusiasm for connection, is keeping them at arm’s length and the whole situation. Artistic, elegant, and small-town in her asymmetrical haircut and drop earring, she begins unsure of “how to find my place among these people”—people whose lives are steeped in small-town tradition and religion. When she pays a return visit to Arnt’s farm to clear things up with him and the sisters, the air is thick with mistrust.

Olaug, who grew up in a wealthy family across the fjord from May and Kari and their farmer parents, speaks condescendingly and inaccurately of their childhood “poverty” and “misery”. In interviews for camera, her struggle to understand the disruptive idea of ​​a whole new family at 80 is understandable, but his expressions of superiority become more and more bizarre, with pointed references to his IQ and his know-how military. An unbeliever, Olaug is particularly furious that her half-brothers want to convert her, a charge for which the film offers no evidence.

It’s impossible to see hard feelings when extended family sing a short, joyous song of thanks to Jesus before a meal. But if that song and all it stands for to a visiting relative is unforgivably offensive, it would be for her to fix it — as Olaug apparently does, in stunning fashion. “Is someone lying?” asks Fredriksson, from behind the camera, as a crucial reversal is revealed. She adds, exasperated and voicing the audience’s thoughts, “What’s going on?!” The answers are another thing. But the way things play out, it’s impossible not to draw parallels to the uncompromising us-versus-them social climate in the United States, or to remember that urban sophistication is hardly the opposite of narrow-mindedness.

All of this – the joy, the heaviness, the tense interactions, the private confessions and seated interviews – is captured with gripping intimacy by Fredriksson and his small team of collaborators. From the sun-drenched symmetrical compositions at the beginning of the film, to the painterly views of the winter woods near the scene of a young woman’s mysterious death, Lehto’s moving cinematography achieves a subtle poignancy. Editors Mark Bukdahl and Orvar Anklew shape the scenes with a sharp, pulsating sensibility, the moving score by Jonas Colstrup (Jehane Noujaim’s film The square) at one with the maelstrom of emotion, suspense and shifting alliances.

“This film was meant to be something positive,” Kari says open-hearted, in a hurt wail, in a voicemail to Fredriksson as the twists and turns reach new levels of weird and heartbreaking. Gullspang’s Miracle it doesn’t go the cheerful celebratory route envisioned by Kari and May, but “positive” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a gorgeous film, alive with detail, deep and resonant. From start to finish (a kind of punchline to the end credits), it’s an eye-opening exploration of not only how we tell the stories we tell, but also how we choose what to believe, sometimes despite all that is in front of us. , or how much we have been denied.