'The Gullspång Miracle' - Tribeca Film Festival
With divine premonitions, unreliable narrators, and devout Christianity, Maria Fredriksson’s eccentric and shocking docu-mystery is the definition of stranger-than-fiction and a fascinating investigation of the concept of a miracle.
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Fredriksson’s docu-mystery springs from an unconventional place: her subjects reached out to her. Norwegian sisters Kari and May called the filmmaker and explained what they believed was a divine, miraculous discovery. The sisters, who are devout Christians, were touring a house for sale when they saw three paintings lined up next to each other and believed it was a cosmic sign of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When the sisters meet with the realtor to buy the house, already convinced something cosmic is happening, they are stunned to find that she looks exactly like their sister Lita, who died by suicide 30 years prior. Upon finding out the realtor, Olaug, has the same birthday as their deceased sister and also grew up going by the nickname Lita, the sisters are gobsmacked, convinced this could only be divine intervention.
They enlist Fredriksson to document this miracle, and from here, the mystery of Lita, Olaug, and the family’s history unravels into a web of suspicion, secrecy, and explosive family tensions. Fredriksson approaches the subjects with objectivity, keeping any judgment or skepticism at bay as Kari and May tell their story. Fredriksson has them reenact the discovery of the paintings themselves, a smart, and humorous, directorial choice that refreshingly subverts the typical reenactment with hired actors.
Each scene is shot with cinematic flare, with serene portraits of the Norwegian countryside and thoughtfully composed, intimate shots that immerse you in the setting and the family dynamics. As the story quickly becomes far, far stranger than fiction, Fredrikkson’s cinematic shooting style elevates the sense that we are watching something that feels cinematic, too off-kilter and absurd to be true.
From here, the specifics of the revelations must be kept under wraps for maximum enjoyment. Differences in values, a result of a lifetime with vastly opposed class and religious backgrounds, cause mistrust between Olaug, Kari, and May. While Kari and May are staunchly religious and from a lower-class background, Olaug is not religious at all and is from a wealthy family. This leads to tensions between the sisters and Olaug so uncomfortable that at times I viscerally cringed. Their stark differences in values plant a colossal wedge between them as they work to unpack this “miracle.” What begins as a recounting of an emotional, divine happening gradually spirals into a story of how extreme religious zeal and conflicting values cause insurmountable family divides.
The film is a painful, uncomfortable reminder that true family is ultimately chosen, and blood ties are not strong enough to bond people who have no common ground. Fredrikkson, and the viewers, are increasingly forced to question the reliability of our narrators as the extent of their religious beliefs reveals itself, and we must seriously question which narrator we can trust. In a poetic and utterly chilling accident that the sisters attribute to the ghost of their deceased sister, the search for truth ends in a supernatural and utterly jaw-dropping conclusion. It’s as if Lita herself begs everyone to let her rest, unleashing her rage on the documentarian and her subjects.
Fredriksson’s haunting docu-mystery completely subverts the typical stories of family reconnection after a lifetime apart, offering truthful and painful revelations about religion, grief, and family bonds. 'The Gullspång Miracle' is a story you must watch to believe, or not believe. The truth remains a mystery, and that’s the magic of it.