Montreal Film Review: ‘The Miracle’

Danish director Simon Staho's latest feature is an odd duck that neither quite convinces nor emotionally satisfies.


Sonja Richter, Ulrich Thomson, Peter Plaugborg, William Lonstrup, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Allan Hyde, Dorte Hojstead, Rasmus Lander.

An assertive yet wobbly mix of old-fashioned love-triangle melodrama and quasi-religious parable ill suited to the gritty realism of its Dogma 95-style execution, “The Miracle” is an odd duck that neither quite convinces nor emotionally satisfies. Danish director/co-writer (with Peter Birro) Simon Staho’s latest feature harks back to Scandinavian silent cinema in its elemental conflict between devotion and passion, as a country minister’s wife finds herself overpowered by desire for a lifelong love who’s returned after decades of absence. Critical response will be mixed, offshore sales spotty.

Actually the marriage between pastor Erik (Peter Plaugborg) and local native Johanna (Sonja Richter) seems pretty passionate itself, on the evidence of their frequent couplings after having been together for many years. This, despite her paralyzed legs (from a car accident some time before they met), as well as his somewhat strange pleas to have God heal her in front of the church congregation each Sunday. They have a happy sole offspring in young Christian (William Lonstrup), and Johanna is as fulfilled teaching children’s dance classes as Erik is tending his mostly elderly flock.

Her job, however, is threatened when the owner of the building those classes are held in passes away, and the lady’s son, Jakob (Ulrich Thomsen), arrives to gruffly announce he’s tearing the place down. What’s more, Jacob turns out to have been Johanna’s teenage beau and dancing partner before her accident. Despite all vows of eternal love, they broke up over her choice of another partner in order to win a ballroom competition — a pretty silly reason, but oh well. In a huff Jakob left town, never to be heard from again until now.

Initially embittered and dismissive, he soon caves in to her entreaties, deciding to remodel rather than raze his mother’s property. It’s almost immediately clear to both parties that two decades’ separation hasn’t dimmed the spark between them; they begin meeting in secret as Erik grows more and more suspicious. When the prayed-for miracle  actually does occur — seemingly as a result of this forbidden love rather than any divine intervention —  the increasingly unstable, jealous husband snaps to become a holy terror.

Though the film takes place in 1971 (it’s presumably set as well as largely shot in Ireland, since all the leads are coiffed as redheads), life seems fairly severed from modernity in this rural hamlet, and the story feels willfully antiquated at times. (There’s even a sequence with a torch-bearing angry mob.) A bigger-than-life, more formal stylistic approach would have served the screenplay’s primitive, mythical aspects better than the handheld-camera immediacy and other naturalistic choices Staho makes, which only underline a general implausibility. Setting the tale a century or more earlier would have also helped.

Thomsen and Richter try to summon the desired star-crossed-lovers abandon, but their characters’ amour fou recklessness never transcends narrative contrivance. Plauborg (who duly won an acting prize at Montreal) fares best in an eventually frightening yet pathetic turn as an adoring spouse who loses his grip at the threat of losing his wife.

Sebastian Wintero’s lensing provides some attractive verdant-landscape shots in a presentation that arguably should have aimed for a greater lyricism throughout. Musical backing consists entirely of well-chosen classical excerpts by Arvo Part, Grieg, Messian, Mahler, Wagner, Sibelius and so forth.

Montreal Film Review: 'The Miracle'

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 26, 2013. Running time: 91 MIN. Original title: "Miraklet"


(Denmark-Ireland) A Zentropa Entertainments 30 and ZZ Film presentation. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre.) Produced by Jonas Fredriksen. Executive producers, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Peter Garde. Co-producers, Tristan Orpen Lynch, Aoife O'Sullivan Jessica Ask, Gunnar Carlsson.


Directed by Simon Staho. Screenplay, Staho, Peter Birro. Camera (color, HD), Sebastian Wintero; editor, Kasper Leick; production designer, Fiona Daly; costume designer, Kathy Strachan; set decorator, Sheelagh Power; sound (Dolby Digital), Jakob Garfield; sound designers, Rune Palving, Hans Moller; assistant director, Antony Castle; casting, Rie Hedegaard.


Sonja Richter, Ulrich Thomson, Peter Plaugborg, William Lonstrup, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Allan Hyde, Dorte Hojstead, Rasmus Lander.

More Film

  • The Band Doc 'Once Were Brothers'

    Robbie Robertson Documentary 'Once Were Brothers' to Open Toronto Film Festival

    “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will rock the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary recounts the story of one of Canada’s musical legends — a man who served as both lead guitarist and primary songwriter on a group that introduced the likes of “The Weight” and “The Night [...]

  • Rounds

    Stephan Komandarev and Catalin Mitulescu Films Among Sarajevo's 23 World Premieres

    The latest films from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev and Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu are among 23 world premieres competing for the Heart of Sarajevo awards at the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival. Komandarev’s 2017 film “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and his 2008 opus, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” was [...]

  • Tommy JamesCousin Brucie 3rd Annual Palisades

    Tommy James Biopic 'Me, the Mob and the Music' in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pop music star Tommy James and film producer Barbara DeFina are developing the biopic “Me, the Mob and the Music,” based on James’ autobiography. DeFina, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” and James have tapped three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall to helm the film adaptation from a screenplay by Matthew Stone (“Intolerable [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    Comic-Con: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Cast Will Hit Reddit Live-Streamed AMA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Arnold is back — and he and other cast members of “Terminator: Dark Fate” are joining a first-of-its-kind live-streaming Reddit AMA on Thursday from Comic-Con International in San Diego. For the new installment in the “Terminator” franchise, Paramount Pictures is hosting a traditional Comic-Con panel Thursday 11 a.m.-12 noon in Hall H. Then, a few [...]

  • Pedestrians walk past a large screen

    Johnny Kitagawa: Power, Abuse, and the Japanese Media Omerta

    Will the death of Johnny Kitagawa lead to a change of attitude by the Japanese media to the powerful Johnny & Associates talent agency that he formed? Public broadcaster NHK and others this week reported a warning to the company from the Fair Trade Commission over alleged pressure on TV stations to keep members of [...]

  • Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night

    Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night Film ‘Knuckle City’

    DURBAN–Dudu Nyakama is an aging boxer whose best fighting days are behind him. But for a man whose only glory has come in the ring, a big prize fight offers the one shot at saving his family, dragging him into the criminal underbelly of the gritty township he’s spent his whole life trying to escape. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content