Warning. Spoiler alert! Well, sort of a spoiler alert. You see, I will tell you of a scene in the movie, Fatima (released on August 28th), that does not appear. For those who know the story of three shepherd children who had six visions of the Blessed Mother in the year 1917, this omission will surprise you. Now for my impressions of Fatima.
It felt real. It was not a fairy tale version of the visions. From the stunning drone shots of the rugged countryside of Portugal, to the compelling performances of the three young actors, we get the urgent messages of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. It really happened! These endearing visionaries really did see the Blessed Virgin Mary and she had profound messages to convey. The performances of the three actors totally portrayed the personalities of the famous children.
Lucia, played by Stephanie Gil, captured the essence of a child torn by supernatural phenomena that change her life forever. Gone are the peaceful days spent on pastures guarding a flock of sheep. Gone are the harmonious days of a poor family who labor and pray together. Our Lady touches down in Fatima and turmoil ensues. Lucia’s beloved and pious mother does not believe her daughter. Why would Our Lady appear to Lucia? Mother turns against daughter and accuses her of lying. Lucia’s memoirs reveal that of all the persecutions she endured, this was the most gut-wrenching cross she had to bear. The Portuguese actress who portrays Lucia’s mother, Lucia Moniz, accurately presents the inner torture she undergoes.
The director, Marco Pontecorvo, chose to build the conflict between Lucia and her mother, describing it as a triangle between the visionary, Maria Rosa, and the Blessed Mother. It was a unique approach not taken in other films about Fatima. Drama requires conflict. Pontecorvo builds tension between Lucia, her family, and people of the village. Stephanie Gil delivers a convincing performance. We feel what Lucia feels. Isn’t that what fine acting should do?
Jorge Lamelas plays the part of Francisco. His role did not require depth of emotion…more of a playful little boy, at times confused (he could see but not hear the Lady), but ultimately steadfast in his belief that the Lady really appeared. He is a dead ringer for the real Francisco.
Alejandra Howard portrayed Jacinta, capturing her sweetness and unwavering love for the Lady. I do question scenes where she is immersed in the vision and abruptly turns to thousands of pilgrims and relays a mystical message in a natural manner, discounting the powerful rapture of these supernatural events.
Now for the spoiler. Are you ready? The director chooses not to show scenes in which the mayor threatens to boil the children in oil if they do not recant their stories. If you recall, the mayor kidnaps the children and interrogates them. One by one, he demands that they take back their lies or they will be killed in horrific fashion. Francisco refuses and is removed from the room, presumably going to his death. Next, Jacinta refuses to recant. She is taken out of the room believing that she will also have a gruesome death. Each time, Lucia truly believed that her beloved cousins had died for Our Lady. Lucia was also prepared to be a martyr. As the true story goes, the mayor only intended to frighten the children and did not follow through with his threat.
Instead of including this dramatic scene, Pontecorvo substitutes the appearance of a psychiatrist interviewing them. In my opinion, this weakens the plot. I also believe that it was an important fact that the children were willing to die for their belief that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them.
Despite these flaws, the director integrates luminous cinematography of the hillsides that draw us into the story. It is filmed in a Portuguese medieval village, helping to transport us to this place and time. Outstanding performances from the cast make us feel we are walking with Lucia through extraordinary events that shook a little girl, a family, a village, a country, and ultimately the world. Pontecorvo does not diminish the message of Fatima and the desperate need for prayer and sacrifice in a fallen world.