Film Review: 'Fatima'

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: Republic Film Distribution 2021

Film Review: 'Fatima'

Fatima  is an intelligent, realistic but ultimately bleak film, which highlights the messiness of apparitions, says Kristina Cooper.

Most Catholics know at least the basics of the apparitions of Fatima, when in 1917 Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal, warning the world to repent and the importance of praying the rosary for the salvation of sinners.

Although there have been numerous documentaries about the subject, not so many feature films have been made. So it is interesting that on 25 June 2021, Fatima, a new drama about the apparitions, will be released in selected cinemas and on demand.

The 1952 version of the story, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, (available on You Tube) comes across more as a fairy tale, with its brightly dressed faux peasants and cute little visionaries being threatened with being boiled in oil by the evil anti-clerical authorities.

The latest version, however, is much more realistic, and nuanced with psychological undertones. Instead of lush cinemascope, the colour palate is rather dark, and the photography, though beautiful, is quite oppressive, underlining the harshness of peasant life at the time, amidst the background of persecution and war.

Mysterious Representation Of Apparitions

Although the film makers have chosen to show Our Lady as a real woman, Portuguese actress, Joana Ribero, the apparitions are somewhat mysterious and a bit unsettling.

One can sympathise with those who did not initially believe the children, who were only 7,9 and 10 at the time. Lucia’s mother (Lucia Moniz), an educated and devout woman, apparently never believed her daughter, as she could not imagine why Our Lady would appear to an ordinary child.

Watch a trailer for Fatima here:

The Poor Want More Than Bread

The hysteria caused by the apparitions was also difficult.

Early on, when a poor woman arrives at the door of the family home, Lucia’s mother assumes that she has come to beg for bread and sets out to provide something. But no, the woman wants to see the seer. The mother angrily shuts the door, holding her daughter responsible through her lies for all this hysteria.

No doubt the motivations of the huge crowds that gathered,  hoping to catch a glimpse of Our Lady, were partly superstition,  but the film also cleverly underscores that the poor want more than bread to touch the divine. This is something that the anti-clerical authorities at the time, and secular modern liberals today, often ignore.

The film shows the huge price paid by the children and their families. Their harvest is ruined because the crowds trample on their field where the Virgin appears. The church is closed and the local priest imprisoned, although he has not even been supportive of the visions, and the authorities try and have the children certified as psychologically disturbed.  

Surviving Visionary More Than A Match For Atheist Writer

The film attempts to give a balanced account of the story, giving room for those who might want to find their own explanations for what happened. Yet there was no doubting the spinning sun, which was reported in newspapers at the time, and in many subtle ways the film shows where its heart lies.

This is shown in the encounter which frames the story, when the professor (Harvey Keitel) visits the only surviving visionary in her convent to learn what happened. Sr. Lucy is played with humour and luminous intelligence by Brazilian actress Sonia Bragg, who is more than a match for the atheist writer.

An intelligent, but for me rather bleak, film, it made me reflect on the messiness of apparitions. If you want to know the background to the Fatima apparitions, it is a good and chastening film to watch. If you want to be inspired and understand its message, I would rather recommend listening to Ralph Martin’s talk on the subject, filmed by Shalom TV and available on You Tube

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