August 28, 2020

Redemptive suffering is key theme in new Fatima film

Stephanie Gil stars in a scene from the movie Fatima. (CNS photo/Claudio Iannone, courtesy PICTUREHOUSE)

Stephanie Gil stars in a scene from the movie Fatima. (CNS photo/Claudio Iannone, courtesy PICTUREHOUSE)

By Ann Margaret Lewis

In 1917, the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children over several months in Fatima, Portugal, culminating in a miracle of the sun witnessed by 70,000 people on Oct. 13, 1917. Twice before these events have been dramatized on film.

The 1952 production The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima provides a classic Hollywood narrative with well-intentioned, but often hyperbolic, performances. The 13th Day (2009), by contrast, is an art film, presenting the story in a memory dreamscape of black and white with hints of color to indicate the presence of the supernatural.

Now, Fatima presents something different, relaying these remarkable events in a straight-forward manner while at the same time delving into their deeper theological meaning.

There are two primary storylines in Fatima. One occurs in 1989, in which a skeptical university professor played by Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs) interviews Sister Lucia (Sônia Braga-Kiss of the Spider Woman) in her convent for a book he is writing on such events. These scenes provide a narrative framework interweaving with the story of the apparitions in 1917 as remembered by Sister Lucia.

As the film progresses, a respectful friendship builds between these two very different people, which is interesting in its nuance. At one point, Sister Lucia tells the doubting professor she and her cousins believed, even as children, that suffering was necessary, revealing one of the key themes of this film: the complex notion of redemptive suffering in which one can offer one’s afflictions, as Christ did, for the salvation of souls.

Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi says that redemptive suffering “was absolutely one of the themes” in her original script. She adds that, “the sacrifices of the children were actually as much a miracle and proof of the reality of Fatima as the Miracle of the Sun. After the July apparition [the seers] began to take on extraordinary penances and they would say, ‘For sinners.’ ” It was for this reason Nicolosi first titled the original draft of her script “For Sinners.”

Of course, when Lucia and her cousins initially agree to the Blessed Mother’s request to suffer for the sake of sinners, they have no idea what it really means. But as the tale of their visions spread and Lucia sees her family lose their crops, livelihood, flocks, reputation, her mother’s health and possibly her brother’s life in war, she comes to understand that her suffering comes primarily in the form of seeing others suffer. This culminates in a rather moving scene in which Lucia’s father witnesses her walking on her knees to the apparition site and around the shrine for several hours, praying for her mother to be cured of illness.

The acting performances in this film vary in strength, though there are some exceptional ones. Lucia, portrayed by Stephanie Gil (Terminator: Dark Fate) gives a rather mature, reflective performance for her age. I was impressed with how one could see her striving to understand what was happening around her and struggling internally on the question of whether to lie and spare her family more tribulation.

Keitel and Braga also do a fine job, though their scenes are brief. All three of these performances are subtle. I had hoped for the same depth from the mayor, Arturo Santos, played by Goran Visnjic (“ER,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) because I know the actor is capable of that. While he was well-cast for that part, he sadly comes off a little one-dimensional.

Meanwhile, I was intrigued by how the Blessed Mother (Joana Ribeiro) and the Angel of Peace (Ivone Fernandes-Jesus) performed their smaller roles with such serene simplicity. They were not showy or glowing with ethereal light, but even so, they managed to convey a sense of other-worldiness in their performances.

Mary is lovely and peaceful, and her sorrow is palpable when she reveals to the children how she is hurt by sinfulness. She is also firm in a motherly way, and clearly all of what she says comes from great love.

The angel, meanwhile, harkens to Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the devil in The Passion of the Christ, in that the being is androgynous. But as opposed to Gibson’s devil, Lucia sees the Angel of Peace walking among sorrowing families who hear of their sons’ deaths in the war, offering prayerful empathy. The angel seems to belong in the scene, but also does not—which is rather how one might imagine it would be.

As a Hollywood film, Fatima does have good production value. The Miracle of the Sun is well-done and appears natural, or real, as opposed to some computer-generated imagery creations in other productions. The film was shot on location in Portugal, which certainly heightens its sense of setting. The musical score is fitting, and Andrea Bocelli’s songs for the end credits are especially nice and worth sticking around to hear.

I watched the film twice, and found it more interesting and moving the second time. The pacing of the film is slower and more thoughtful than standard Hollywood fare these days, but one might find that a good thing. (I do.) I recommend this film for all audiences, though small children might be frightened when the Blessed Mother shows the children a vision of hell.

Fatima will be released in theaters on Aug. 28 and will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, GooglePlay, Xfinity and several other PVOD services. For a complete listing of streaming services and for local show times, visit www.fatimathemovie.com.
 

(Ann Margaret Lewis is executive assistant in the archdiocesan Office of Communications and the author of several books. E-mail her at alewis@archindy.org.)​

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