Fatima (AU -M/US - PG-13)

In a Word: Moving

Fatima movie

The three children - Jacinta (played by Alejandra Howard), Lucia dos Santos (played by Stephanie Gil), and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) - in the movie, Fatima.

During World War I,  three children living in the devout Catholic community of Fatima in newly independent Portugal claimed to have a series of encounters with an angel and Mary, the mother of Christ (played by Joana Ribeiro), in which various "secrets" were revealed to them.

This film tells the story of those three children - 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos (played here by Stephanie Gil) and her two younger cousins, Jacinta Marto (Alejandra Howard) and her brother Francisco (Jorge Lamelas). It shows how their claims of visions were initially met with sceptism by family and community members but how, as word spread, increasingly larger crowds made their way to the rural community to witness what was happening.

"This is a fascinating story and in this latest version (previous takes included 1952's The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima), director Marco Pontecorvo handles it with sensitivity. While it's a generally sympathetic - and relatively straightforward - account of what the children claimed to have seen and the events which flowed from them, it does allow some room for different views..."

Centred on Lucia, the film - which was originally slated for release close to Easter but was pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic - shows how the claims of visions also led to recriminations from those in the community - including from those believed the children were crazy or that the visitations were from the devil. They also saw a somewhat harsh response from local authorities (well-known faces Goran Visnjic plays Mayor Arturo while Joaquim de Almeida plays Catholic priest Fr Ferreira), eager to put down anything which they saw as a threat to the local community.

While much of the focus of the film is on depicting events of 1917, the main narrative is punctuated by scenes concerning a series of meetings in 1989 between Lucia, now an elderly nun (played by Sonia Braga), and a sceptic writer, Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel), who doesn't hold back in voicing his sceptism about the events. 

This is a fascinating story and in this latest version (previous takes included 1952's The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima), director Marco Pontecorvo handles it with sensitivity. While it's a generally sympathetic - and relatively straightforward - account of what the children claimed to have seen and the events which flowed from them, it does allow some room for different views, notably through Keitel's character (albeit it doesn't take the discussions between the professor and the nun very far). But with the film so focused on Lucia as a child, it's her simple faith that forms the heart of the narrative.

What happened in Fatima will continue to remain a matter of debate - and, for many, a matter of faith (the real Lucia lived as a nun and died in 2005 while her cousins Jacinta and Franciso, who died in from the Spanish flu in 1918, were canonised by the Roman Catholic Church in 2017). Putting that aside, however, this is a story about staying true to one's convictions despite opposition and about the role belief in something bigger than ourselves can play in dark times. 

Fatima is a moving and evocative film, with some excellent cinematography and genuinely good performances. And for those who may not know much about the events it recounts, it's an opportunity to come face-to-face with a story that has captured the attention of people right around the globe for more than a century.