The world in which the three children of Fatima lived was not unlike our own.…
‘Fatima’s’ message of hope, faith is one we need today
If ever a film were crafted to provide encouragement for a world in need of consolation, it would seem a perfect solution to have the Virgin Mary as a part of the project. Perhaps this is why attendees at advance screenings of “Fatima,” scheduled to open in theaters and available on-demand Aug. 28, are walking away from preview events with rave reviews of the film.
“For the first time, I felt as if I had visited Fátima — and not only that, had lived the experience of the seers, their families and the community that was forever changed by the visitation of our Blessed Mother and her powerful message for the world,” said Bishop Robert Reed, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston. Bishop Reed was among viewers who attended one of several socially distanced drive-in movie pre-screening opportunities around the country. Participants were offered Fátima-themed facemasks and “blue carpet” photo shoots while safely ensconced in their vehicles to watch the movie.
Fact and fiction
A production of Origin Entertainment, primarily known for its uplifting programming, “Fatima” includes some fictional storytelling but takes efforts to remain true to the historical accounts of Our Lady’s 1917 apparitions to three young shepherd children. Catholic team members on the project include Origin’s Chief Executive Officer Dick Lyles and producers Rose Ganguzza and Natasha Howes. Howes, well-known for her work on the documentary “The 13th Day,” served as a conduit to officials at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima.
“The Shrine of Fátima welcomes all independent initiatives and projects that see the history and message of Fátima as a source of artistic creation,” the shrine stated in its official endorsement of the film. “Inspired by the story of our Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances to three children, the movie ‘Fatima’ shows why it is still possible for humanity to believe in divine intervention, even in our contemporary world.”
The opening moments of “Fatima” offer a bird’s-eye view of Professor Nichol’s windy drive to a convent in Coimbra, Portugal, where he holds and extensive interview with cloistered Sister Lúcia as she recounts from behind a metal grille the memories of her part in Mary’s mysterious apparitions so many decades ago. In his turn as the skeptical academic, award-winning actor Harvey Keitel captures perfectly the emotions of those who have ever tried to intellectually reconcile the mysterious nature of Marian apparitions. Sônia Braga, as Sister Lúcia, opens a window into her distant memories of those months that forever altered her life. This poignant opening dialogue between a woman who gave her life to her faith and a spiritual seeker provides a potent backdrop as we turn back in time to her life as a child.
While this particular portion of the film is fictitious, great care is taken with production values to help us step back in time to war-torn Fátima, Portugal, as it may have looked in 1917. We encounter 10-year-old Lúcia wandering in a cave near her home in Aljustrel, a small town on the outskirts of Fátima. Gifted child actor Stephanie Gil captures the gamut of emotions as the child Lúcia is greeted by an angel who reveals to her a vision of horrific battle scenes unfolding. Lúcia sees her brother, Manuel, caught in an explosion on the frontlines of a World War I battle.
This vision is a precursor to the moment when Lúcia, tending the sheep with her younger cousins Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas), first miraculously encounters the Virgin Mary. Far from the horrifying earlier vision, Lúcia and Jacinta are immediately drawn to Our Lady of the Rosary, portrayed by Portuguese actress Joana Ribeiro. Francisco sees Mary but is unable to hear Mary’s message to the children that they must fervently pray and suffer so that the war will end.
Despite their decision not to tell others about the “Lady,” the children must ultimately explain what they have experienced to their parents. This is especially problematic for Lúcia, whose mother, Maria, is beyond distraught about the fact that her son is missing in action. Lúcia Moniz, playing Maria, perfectly captures the fracture between this woman of profound faith who sacrifices intensely for her son’s well-being and her daughter. Maria believes the children are making up a story to gain attention and must navigate Lucia’s claims. She must also navigate the demands of Mayor Artur (Goran Višnjić) who grows increasingly angry at — and threatened politically by — the children’s claims.
As the young visionaries’ story spreads, desperate pilgrims are drawn to the apparition site. The mayor, in an attempt to quash their testimony, involves Church officials to dissuade the children. He even imprisons them briefly, subjecting them to examination by a psychiatrist whose ultimate diagnosis enables them to be released before one final, climactic apparition.
The day the sun danced
It’s notable that “Fatima” director Marco Pontecorvo chose to portray Our Lady of the Rosary not through a softly focused, blue-hued lens, but rather as the type of mother Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco would never fear. Juxtaposed to Lúcia’s relationship with her own mother, this choice offers an opportunity for viewers who may see “Fatima” without knowing the real story of the apparitions to see the film through a unique prism.
Relationships are very much at the heart of “Fatima.” The children’s tender affection for one another, a family’s grief as they fear the loss of their son and their own financial struggles, and a community’s devastating need are all universal themes that feel especially poignant during this time of pandemic.
Pontecorvo’s cinematography choices make the film a luminescent work of art not only during the apparition scenes but even in simple moments when the children stride the fields or Lúcia prays in a candlelight village church. Never are the filmmaker’s choices more dramatically felt than during the moments of Our Lady’s final apparition. Tens of thousands of people present in the fields that day have spent decades recounting the miracle they witnessed. “Fatima” gloriously recounts this story for new generations greatly in need of courage, healing and hope.
Viewers will want to stay through the film’s ending credit sequence for a performance of the original song “Gratia Plena” by the incomparable Andrea Bocelli. The score for “Fatima” by Italian composer Paolo Buonvino, including the Bocelli’s sweeping hymn, lends a depth and warmth that offers viewers an experience that feels akin to blessed worship.
“Fatima” relays a remarkable story of faith, hope and courage. While remaining historically accurate with cautious attention to detail, the filmmakers capture both the drama of Mary’s apparitions and the interpersonal relationships impacted by these miraculous moments. Terrific acting, gorgeous cinematography and a sweeping score combine to make this a must-see film for our age.
“Fatima” is scheduled to be released in theaters and on-demand Aug. 28. For more information on where and how to watch the movie, visit fatimathemovie.com.
Lisa Hendey writes from California.