MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: NR
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
There have already been several film adaptations of the Fatima apparitions, among the most recent being 2009’s The 13th Day—an unusual, experimental interpretation made by devout Catholics that felt like it was filmed entirely in front of a green screen. This summer’s Fatima is a more traditional telling of the story from Picturehouse, a secular distributor of independent films.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword. The film is more approachable for those with no knowledge of Sister Lucia, Portugal, or the Third Secret, but Catholics already familiar with the Fatima story may find this telling lacking in depth and detail.
The film is framed as an interview between an elderly Sr. Lucia Santos (Sônia Braga) and skeptical journalist Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel). The story unfolds in a series of long flashbacks in which Lucia recounts her experiences of the apparitions; Lucia as a young girl is played by Stephanie Gil.
Most CWR readers are probably familiar with the story and many of the details the Fatima apparitions. Fatima hits all the major points: Mary appears each month, word spreads, the authorities—and Lucia’s own mother—don’t believe the stories, and the narrative concludes with the Miracle of the Sun. The telling of the story here is straight-forward without embellishment, and the “interview,” spread throughout the film, amounts to only a few minutes of screen-time.
The big advantage that Fatima has over its predecessors is the acting. Nearly every performance is stellar. I was especially impressed with Joana Ribeiro’s performance as the Blessed Mother. She is stunningly beautiful and gives the best portrayal of Mary I’ve seen since The Passion of the Christ. She is firm in her instructions to the children but also gentle in her encouragement. Also remarkable is Lucia Moniz as Lucia’s mother. She doesn’t believe in her daughter’s visions, but her doubt comes not from hatred of the faith but from genuine love. She wants her daughter to avoid offending God, and tries to keep her from the potential harm of being a seer.
The only actor American audiences will recognize is Keitel, a regular for directors Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. He does a fine job as a nonbeliever foil to Sister Lucia, but unfortunately has so little screen-time that I doubt he was on set longer than a day or two.
The message that Mary brings to the children is peace, but Catholic viewers may notice some familiar details of the Fatima message aren’t here. Yes, there is mention of the Rosary and a brief vision of Hell, but there are also noticeable omissions, such as the call for Russia’s consecration. In Fatima, Catholicism is the atmosphere for a miracle rather than the center. The filmmakers likely made these decisions in an effort to introduce the story to non-Catholic and non-Christian audiences unfamiliar with it; a universal message of peace and a call to Faith in the face of unbelief—represented here by atheistic civil authorities—is the film’s final take-away.
Fatima gives a good introduction, beautifully acted, for audiences new to the Fatima story. Catholics looking for richer detail or deeper insight into Our Lady’s messages there may find themselves somewhat dissatisfied.
• Related at CWR: “Director of Fatima film: ‘I think we achieved something believable.'” By Steven D. Greydanus (August 22, 2020)
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