– By Maria Andress –
After two postponements due to Covid-19, the feature film Fatima finally released this past weekend. With many theaters still in shutdown and the film primarily released on streaming, Marco Pontecorvo’s new film in the faith genre (and first film in English) won’t be garnering huge box office success. However, its 87% Audience Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the Critics Consensus “Hard not to respect but difficult to love” are testaments to a knowledgeable adaption of Fatima.
With a meandering European artistic style similar to that of Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, Fatima repeatedly showcases sweeping vistas of Portuguese countryside. Perhaps it speaks more to American frenzied minds that some find the constant montages and enormous focus on eyes and mouths a bit bland. The focus here is on character rather than storyline, and—filmed on location in Portugal by Vincenzo Carpineta—each shot fills the frame with cinematic perfection.
The first crowning achievement of 2020’s Fatima lies in its poignant portrayal of Lucia’s perspective—a child torn between preserving her family’s livelihood in their Socialist-invaded town and remaining loyal to the heavenly Lady’s mission for her. The second achievement consists in showing just how truly young these three children are: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta are only seven, eight, and ten when the events at Fatima unfold. Their courage in the face of crowds, prelates, and government threats is all the more astounding when the viewers come face to face with their youth.
The third great achievement of this film is how naturally the actors are portrayed alongside the context of the First World War and its consequences. Pain and peace mingle here in all their profound simplicities. Fatima is a human story of a mother coming to meet her children where they are at. The actors, the color palette, the camera work, the soundtrack, and the editing all capture that.
Fatima is certainly a competent and effective drama; what then keeps this film from joining the ranks of the brilliantly captivating?
Fatima seemed to not quite know who its audience was supposed to be. If the filmmakers’ intent was to draw in many newcomers (including skeptics) to the story of Fatima and its powerful message, then the film succeeds quite well in exposing the true story. Statistically though, the majority of people who will choose to watch this film already know the story of Fatima; they’re not looking so much for a winding trail through its validity, but rather a stirring retelling of the miraculous events themselves. That extra brilliancy of storytelling is what is especially necessary in showcasing Catholic sagas for the mainstream, and in “Fatima” it was not quite there.
After a marketing campaign that focused heavily on the miraculous climax of the Fatima story, the film itself was surprisingly lackluster in accentuating the supernatural with the Miracle of the Sun. In addition, the way the film portrays an interview between Sr. Lucia dos Santos and atheist Professor Nichols imparts confusion as to whether or not the filmmakers intend to leave their audience believers. This witty back-and-forth between the eldest Fatima seer and Professor Nichols is left open-ended and receives no concluding scene.
Also a confusing choice is the closing quote of the film by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This seems to perhaps be a tribute to Franz Werfel’s quote featured in the 1943 film Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” But the Einstein quote actually seems to undermine the idea that Fatima was out of the ordinary; was the Miracle of the Sun extraordinary or not? And why are we telling this story if it wasn’t?
Clearly, the filmmakers do think Fatima is an inexplicable miracle heralding a call to penance and peace. But despite its cinematic beauty, in trying to soften the story for newcomers the screenwriters may have hurt the success of their film by failing to concisely captivate their largest target audience. Still, who knows exactly who this beautiful piece might inspire? It is, after all, a respectable dramatization of one of the most beloved Marian apparitions.
Fatima is available to rent on multiple streaming platforms – see more info on the official site.
About the Author
Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.