Directed by: Maria Fredriksson
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Christopher Cross
It’s not long before Maria Fredriksson’s debut feature film, “The Gullspång Miracle,” starts shifting from a story of miracles to one of truths best left buried – well, depending on whose perspective Fredriksson favors in the final edit. This isn’t the sleight it might be with other films, where directors ignore perspectives to befit their vision. Instead, Fredriksson weaves the overpowering conviction of religion against the potential Hell lurking in the shadows of reality, interrogating faith’s intersection with the truth. “The Gullspång Miracle” confronts every stone left unturned with equal disdain, as the documentary spars with its subjects’ unwillingness to dig beyond the religious facade they’ve put up, the film becomes a fight to finish a story that its characters have no interest in continuing.
It all starts with a miracle. An overwhelming desire to purchase a specific style of painting leads to Gullspång, Sweden, and two sisters, Kari and May, who decide to purchase an apartment that leads them to a shocking discovery – their sister who committed suicide many years ago had a twin they never knew about, and she’s working in Gullspång. The resemblance is uncanny, and a DNA test confirms with little doubt that the three are related. How did this come to be? And will Kari, May, and their brother be able to accept Olaug into their family simply because they are related?
The story begins akin to 2018’s “Three Identical Strangers,” and alone that would be enticing enough. But there’s far more to the story beyond the circumstances that divided this family – and it’s primarily what happens after they get to know each other. It’s that unwavering acceptance that the discovery of Olaug must be a miracle and an act of God that starts prying at Olaug herself – an extremely non-religious individual who finds her new family’s obsession with Christianity to be grotesque. Could she really be related to people that love God this much?
What becomes most fascinating throughout “The Gullspång Miracle” is how Fredriksson occasionally has to question her subjects with a touch of frustration as more questions come up and the family starts distancing themselves from an interrogation of their past. More importantly, the film finds itself with subjects who would rather stick to their beliefs than the reality encroaching upon them – and the ease with which they can insulate themselves from it becomes infuriating for both viewer and director.
Narrative threads dangle, and the ethical considerations of pursuing an investigation against the wishes of those involved are one of many hindrances that make “The Gullspång Miracle” feel incomplete by design. It’s the only gripe with the film, but one that the film itself seems to wrestle with in both the filming process and the editing room. As the story uncovers more potential threads to explore, the desire to push past the family’s squabbles and arguments in order to maintain that forward momentum is exacerbated by the family’s refusal to engage with anything substantial. It leaves Fredriksson’s film with a roadblock it can’t get past, and, as a result, “The Gullspång Miracle” suffers from this nagging feeling that there’s a better story out there.
Whatever story might have come from following the story to its natural conclusion, it doesn’t mesh with the film that Maria Fredriksson has discovered. It’s a story about a family forced to relive their past and confront their belief systems when what they’ve been told for years turns out to be potentially untrue. The compelling element of “The Gullspång Miracle” is that its subjects don’t have to do anything they don’t want to. Fredriksson’s film explores a human reaction to suddenly knowing everything and nothing – one that forces the film to dissect the role religion plays within a tight-knit family and the truths they aren’t willing to accept.
“The Gullspång Miracle” Clip
Christopher Cross is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University. You can find more of his writing on his website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Substack, or Letterboxd for more of his thoughts.