Saturday Cinema Pick: ‘Fatima’

In 1917, in the Portuguese town of Fátima, three small children were visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. She urged them to pray, to dedicate themselves to the rosary, and in so doing they could bring about an end to the war then ravaging Europe.

The children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, told their parents in descriptions vivid and specific: the vision was “brighter than the sun,” a dazzling figure shedding “rays of light”. As word got around, pilgrims flocked to Fátima. (Fátima is still a regular pilgrimage destination.)

The two younger children died in the flu epidemic of 1918, but Lucia lived to the age of 97, dying in 2005. She became a nun and published multiple memoirs, the main one being Memórias da Irmã Lúcia. Marco Pontecorvo’s “Fátima” tells the story of these children and the upheaval in their lives—and their family’s lives—due to the children’s refusal to retract their story, even when put under enormous pressure from civil and religious authorities.

“Fatima” is told simply but emotionally, prioritizing the sensorial reality of the children’s world and the people inhabiting it. This devotion to the “real” makes the holy vision palpable and plausible.

The acting in the movie was pretty good. The movie pace t allowed you to follow and was thankfully devoid of tripe. I have always found that movies that depict Christianity often outweigh the real value of the message trying to be overly sweet.

In 1989, an author and professional skeptic visits the aging Sister Lúcia in her Carmelite convent in Coimbra to interview her about her experiences. Over the course of the film, Keitel’s character raises questions, interrogates her testimony, and Sister Lúcia answers forthrightly, sometimes teasing him with little quips, a twinkle in her eye. (People who went to visit Lúcia over the years mention her sharp sense of humor.) These conversations provide space for the philosophical and theological questions the story presents.

The main action takes place in 1917, where Lúcia and her cousins wait in the dusty fields for their apparition to return to them. When she appears, she does so softly, walking in bare feet, wearing a white dress and veil. Her message is urgent: the war must end. Lúcia’s brother Manuel has been declared missing in action and Lúcia’s mother Maria (Lucia Moniz), an intense mercurial and sometimes harsh woman, is fearful she hasn’t prayed hard enough for her son’s return. Maria is convinced Lúcia is lying. Why would the Virgin appear to a child, and not a very good child at that? The Mayor a secular man, is alarmed by the pilgrims flocking to Fatima, and goes so far as to padlock the church. He also pulls the children in for rounds of interrogation. The Catholic Church hierarchy gets involved, with the local priest (Joaquin de Almeida) calling in the big guns. The children remain steadfast. “She was as real as you are,” Lúcia tells her outraged mother.

This movie is a great film for Sunday night viewing during Lent. All the actors give great presentations of their art and you will find it very enjoyable.

The movie runs 1hr and 15 minutes long and is rated PG13. It is currently running on Netflix.