Jorge Lamelas (Francisco), Alejandra Howard (Jacinta) and Stephanie Gil (Lucia) play the three children at the heart of Fatima. Photo courtesy Picturehouse

Showing the beauty in Fatima’s truth

  • August 13, 2020

When Mary steps out of the blinding light of the sun and into view for three children who have broken away from watching over a few sheep to pray the rosary, she isn’t surrounded by angels. No trumpets blare. Before the musical score rises to support this moment in the new film Fatima, there are crickets and birdsong and distant bleats of sheep. Mary is surrounded by hills, trees, fields and blue sky.

The rural landscape isn’t spectacular, but it is beautiful. 

The movie had to be beautiful to be true to the story of the Blessed Virgin’s appearance in rural Portugal over 100 years ago, producer Natasha Howes told The Catholic Register.

“We felt for the authenticity and the integrity (of the film), to create the feeling of the landscape for audiences to truly experience what those children were experiencing on a daily basis was really important to us,” Howes said.

At its core, the movie is about the experience of three children — nine-year-old Lucia dos Santos and her younger cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The two younger children were canonized by Pope Francis at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Portugal, 100 years after the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.

“You know, they experienced everything in a very immediate, sensual way,” said Howes of the six 1917 apparitions of Our Lady. “We wanted the audiences to be exposed to the sensual, the sensory experience of these children. So that what we’re taken into is a supernatural encounter.”

Part historical drama and part virtual pilgrimage, Fatima will open in a few theatres across the U.S. Aug. 28. Given COVID, the release has been delayed a couple of times and most people will see it on premium video on demand services —  Apple iTunes and Amazon Prime, for starters. At press time, producers were still lining up other pay-per-view outlets.

As an historical drama, the film presents the children and the little village of Fatima as an island of peace suddenly caught up in the fearful and violent storm of the times. In the village square people gather to hear the mayor read the names of sons, brothers and husbands who have been killed far away from home, fighting in the First World War. As the children are pressured to renounce their claim to have seen Mary, and pilgrims and gawkers gather in crowds on the hillside to watch them pray, Spanish flu threatens the lives of villagers. Meanwhile the mayor is a player in the republican politics of the time and treats the Church as a political rival to be silenced and shut down.

“That dynamic of change grows,” explained Howes. “It starts within the womb of the family. … As a child she (Lucia) was feeling it. We deal with this in the movie — that she can feel this encroaching shadow of change occur initially from within the family.”

With pilgrims pressuring the children for miracles on demand and the bishop, parish priest and mayor by turns trying to put out the fire by getting Lucia to renounce the apparition as a mistake or hallucination, the young girl bears the weight of responsibility for the welfare of her family and the truth of what she has seen and experienced.

“What does Lucia do? She goes inward,” said Howes. “She goes into her heart. She goes deeper into her faith and she goes deeper into devotion to the blessed mother.”

Young Lucia would go on to become Sr. Lucia, a Carmelite nun, in 1948.

At the bookends of the beginning and closing frames of the film, the story is put into a contemporary context. A skeptical Professor Nichols (played by Harvey Keitel) visits an elderly Sr. Lucia (Sonia Braga) to try to get at the historical truth of what happened on that hillside. The answers he gets tell him the sequence of events, but can’t tell him what it means. The professor leaves Sr. Lucia’s cloister with the same doubts he brought with him. Sr. Lucia remains, standing by a doubting world with her quiet reminder that there is a bridge to Heaven.

“We’re purely reflecting the story of what happened 100 years ago, that actually invokes supernatural encounters of three children with the Blessed Mother. We respect the historical story of the time,” Howes said. “This is a veneration. We call it an homage to Fatima.”

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