This week I had an opportunity to see the film Fatima, directed by Marco Pontecorvo who said he believes it to be a “subject that can talk to everyone, not only Catholics. It has a meaning, a very powerful meaning, for everyone, not only for believers.”
The story centers around three Portuguese children, Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marco, who shared visions of the Virgin Mary, although Lucia was the only one who spoke with her. At the time of the Fatima apparitions, 1916/17 Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910. Soon afterward the government disbanded religious organizations because religion was regarded as an obstructive force impeding progress. This is shown in the film when early on the mayor refers scathingly to religion and ignorant superstition.
Central to the proceedings is the upheaval in the lives of the children and their families due to their refusal to retract their story, even when placed under enormous pressure from civil and religious authorities. Again, the mayor advises Lucia’s mother that it would be wise to keep an eye on her daughter as she and her husband could find themselves in trouble. The mother of Jacinta and Francisco tells her husband that their children have never lied. However, Lucia’s mother is less tolerant and accuses her of lying in a bid to get their attention.
Mothers and Martyrs
The tension between Lucia and her earthly mother is palpable and contrasts with her magnetic draw towards her heavenly mother. The Virgin is depicted as a real woman, played by Joana Ribeiro who stands before the children in bare feet. The fact that she is flesh and blood further underlines the struggle Lucia faces as she is pulled between two worlds. The children are overcome at seeing this beautiful woman and want to convey her message.
However, the adults create turmoil as politicians, the Church, and the government becomes involved. When the village women taunt Lucia, it is reminiscent of the treatment of martyrs and prophets who are shunned or killed by those who will not listen. At one point when the children are being questioned by the mayor, one of the parents asks, “How long is this torture going to last?”.
Fiction or the Devil?
The film poses the issues raised by sceptics through the character of a non-believer professor (played by the wonderful Harvey Keitel) working on a book about visions. In flash-forward scenes, we see his interview, behind a grille, the now elderly Sister Lucia.`. He tells her that, “All seers are de facto unstable”.
From the outset, we know where he stands. He shares the outlook of many of the people in Lucia’s village, including her own sister.
At one point the priest tells her that the lady she has seen is the devil’s daughter. The wonderfully expressive face of Stephanie Gil who plays Lucia, captures joy and bewilderment in equal measure and we share in her suffering when she says to her father, I thought it was such a beautiful thing. Why do I feel I am hurting everyone?”
The entire film was shot on location in Portugal and the scenery is quite stunning. The director pays great attention to detail in his complete creation of a period reality. There is a sense of authenticity that takes the audience into the lived experience of the time.
During the Miracle of the Sun, the 2,000 extras who were on set were doused with hoses of water to re-enact the downpour of rain. This is done very effectively as are the children’s visit to Hell and the Third Secret, but the latter is filmed in a way that distances the audience, unlike the crowd scene. This is fitting in view of the nature of what is being presented.
The children’s visionaries are wonderful and very convincing, and it is obvious that the director is renowned for his ability to bring the best out of younger actors.
In heart-breaking, recurring scenes throughout the film, the mayor reads out the names of soldier sons who are dead or missing. The families gather to hear his words and we see the devastation on the faces of those whose young men have fallen.
The war is the backdrop to Mary’s message of peace, but she warns that if the people do not stop insulting God there will be war worse than this to come. Prophetic words. She instructs the children to pray the Rosary every day in order to bring peace to the world and end the war.
The importance of faith is the driving force of the film. Lucia keeps going until she has managed to bring together all these people praying for peace. The message is clear… Love each other, Pray more and be kind to one another.
Recommended: A truly beautiful film.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan