Marco Pontecorvo’s Fátima is the first screen version of the Marian apparitions at Fátima and the “Miracle of the Sun” I’ve seen that feels like the characters are living through the story’s events in the present tense.
That’s more than a little ironic, because it’s also the version that most emphatically places those events in the past, almost but not quite presenting them in flashback from the perspective of an aging Sister Lúcia (Brazilian actress Sônia Braga, Aquarius) discussing her experiences with a skeptical professor of religion named Nichols (Harvey Keitel) visiting her at the Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal, in 1989.
The 2009 art-house indie The 13th Day offered a simpler framing device — Sister Lúcia writing her memoirs — but relied on it more extensively, allowing frequent voice-over narration to carry much of the narrative. The 1991 Portuguese docudrama Apparitions at Fátima (Aparição or Apparition is the Portuguese title) also relied on voice-over, sometimes clumsily.
Neither film was much interested in dramatizing what motivated the adult figures who become effective or formal antagonists to the three visionary children: Lúcia’s disapproving mother; the skeptical parish priest; the anticlerical mayor. Nor was the classic Hollywood version of the story, the 1952 film The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, which too obviously tried to emulate the crown jewel of Golden Age Hollywood piety, The Song of Bernadette, without matching its depth of humanity or level of craft.
All of these Fátima films emphasized the turmoil in Europe, and in Portugal in particular, at the moment in 1917 when Our Lady appeared, from the horror of the First World War to the oppression of the Church by Portugal’s hardline secular government.
Only Fátima — written by Barbara Nicolosi, Valerio D’Annunzio and Pontecorvo — captures the sense of life going on at the moment that the three children, 10-year-old Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) and her younger cousins Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) and Jacinta (Alejandra Howard), start to talk about having seen a Lady from heaven at the Cova da Iria, the family pastureland where Lúcia watched her family’s flock of sheep.
Above all, there is the grimly regular ritual of residents of Ourém, the municipality where Lúcia’s village of Aljustrel on the outskirts of Fátima is located, gathering to listen in suspense while the mayor (or civil administrator), Artur Santos (Croatian-American actor Goran Višnjić, Beginners), reads the latest list of local soldiers who have been declared dead or missing.
The cowriter and director of a new film about Our Lady of Fátima talks about why he was drawn to the story and how he tried to realize the miraculous, from a very human Virgin Mary to surreal visions of war and hell.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.