Everything about the Norwegian film “Twin Sisters” seems too good to be true. The stars are a pair of adorable 10-year-olds as energetic as they are well-adjusted. The supporting players look like the four nicest, most supportive parents you could meet. The story hinges on a set of fateful coincidences that profoundly change the lives of everyone involved. “Twin Sisters” is a documentary, though, so there’s no need to suspend disbelief.
Mona Friis Bertheussen’s film, showing on Monday night in the PBS series “Independent Lens,” is an Asian-adoption story. Movies in that genre are typically about grown-ups, often the filmmakers themselves, seeking out the biological families they’ve never known. “Twin Sisters” turns that narrative on its head.
Ms. Bertheussen — taking advantage of how Western fathers film and photograph every step of their trips to adopt Asian babies — economically sketches out the amazing background to her story. A Norwegian couple and an American couple arrive in the same Chinese city on the same day to collect their new daughters. There’s no reason for them ever to meet, but a delay in paperwork and a matching pair of red-gingham baby dresses — one carried from Norway, the other from California — bring them together. They notice that their babies look very much alike.
The film then jumps ahead 10 years, to the current lives of Alexandra Hauglum in a tiny, snowbound Norwegian village and Mia Hansen in a leafy Sacramento suburb. Each has known all her life that she has a twin halfway around the world whom she hasn’t been able to grow up with. In the course of the film, they have a rare reunion, when the Hansens make the trip to tiny Fresvik.
Ms. Bertheussen lays out the huge differences in the girls’ lives: Mia is heavily scheduled, plays with life-size dolls and, because of her mother’s safety fears, is driven everywhere; Alexandra tends a pet mouse, tromps around the mountain paths alone and walks to school down a country road before sunrise. Then she shows us how remarkably similar they are, and how symbiotic, despite the impediments of language, culture, distance and time. “Twin Sisters” is short (53 minutes), modest, straightforward and — without being exploitive or overly sentimental — a complete emotional wipeout. It’s gently devastating.