Fátima Offers a Compelling Portrait of Children Carrying a Burden of Faith

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Religious movies seem to target a specific audience most of the time, but with a superb cast, Fátima promises to cross that line.

Many people are aware of the mystery of Fatima, surrounding visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917 Portugal, whether they're practicing Christians or not.

Even the faithless often find suggestions of miracles worthy of discussion, and Fatima has been igniting such conversations for a century.

Fatima Poster

In 1917, during the first World War that ravaged Europe, three young children in Fátima, Portugal, claimed they had encountered the Virgin Mary while tending to their sheep.

Via prophetic visions, the Virgin suggested that if sinners do not repent, then a war far worse than that they were suffering would be thrust upon them. But the details were secret, not to be revealed until they're explicitly told they could reveal them.

Whether you're six or sixty, a vision is a frightening thing. To entrust three children under the age of ten with inspiring their town to change their sinful ways seems like a monstrous task.

At a time when the townsfolk gather daily in the town square to get updates on soldiers killed or missing in action, such a vision couldn't have come at a worse time for the children.

Naysayers in Fatima

Already quite unhappy with the lord, the thought that the Virgin is appearing but unwilling to protect their loved ones is more than the people can bear.

That means that the kids, aged seven, nine, and ten, must carry the burden of the message themselves, without any way to influence the Virgin to intercede.

Her message upon asking is that they will need to pray a lot and continue suffering for a very long time. It's heady stuff, especially since the story is true.

What they experience has a profound effect on them and everyone around them. The eldest, Lucia, takes the brunt of the town's displeasure, not only from neighbors but from the church elders, as well.

Kids Will be Kids

Despite how cruel I think it is that the Virgin Mary would use children to send a message, especially one that seems like a veiled threat, something else always amazes me about similar cases -- how cynical the believers can be when they are not the ones shown the way.

It's easier for everyone to believe the children have either been visited by the devil or are making up their encounters with the devout. As someone raised Catholic who has questioned faith and devotion unsuccessfully, it's those types of things that make believing all the more difficult.

The story follows ten-year-old Lúcia from the first vision to her time as a nun, as she aids a professor investigating Fátima for a book.

Stephanie Gil plays young Lúcia, and she confidently exudes the young girl's struggles, defying her elders to keep a secret that nobody believes. Gil has a beautiful smile that reminds me of Brittany Murphy.

Lucia Seeing the Virgin Mary

The older Sister Lúcia is portrayed by Sônia Braga, and she's just one of the respected actors in this production.

Harvey Keitel is the professor interviewing Sister Lúcia for his book, Joaquim de Almeida is the town's priest, and Goran Višnjić plays the skeptical mayor.

All three of them resist any possibility that the children weren't making up the visions. It's as close to villainy as you'll get in this film if you don't count World War I, which is villain enough.

The two most compelling performances come from Gil and Lúcia Moniz, who plays Lúcia's mother, Maria. The mother and daughter have a strong relationship, and it's put to the test as they wait for word of Lúcia's brother, Manuel, from battle.

Mother Daughter in Fatima

Like everyone else, Maria is disbelieving, at first, of her daughter's visions, but she's also certain Lúcia isn't a liar.

When the town erupts at Lúcia, Maria comes to her defense, but when they receive word that Manuel is missing in action, Maria turns tail, going so far as to blame Lúcia for her son's MIA status.

The drama sheds light on the complex nature of mother-daughter relationships as Lúcia both needs her mother's love and support as she navigates her experience with the Virgin Mary and comforts her mother as she struggles with the danger her son, Manuel is in while away at war and with the town's disapproval of Lúcia.

Lúcia's journals were used in the creation of the movie, so I would hope that this is as close to what she experienced as it can get, and I couldn't help but wonder if she understood their dynamic when she was young or if it only manifested when she had time to absorb what she experienced.

Sônia Braga as Older Lucia

It's a fascinating story that has mystified the devout and skeptics for 100 years. With seven-year-old Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and her nine-year-old brother, Francisco (Jorge Lamelas), perishing in the flu epidemic of 1918, the entirety of the events, including the secrets they were told and their eyewitness accounts to the Virgin's appearance and the miracles lies solely with Lúcia.

Fátima, the movie, goes to great lengths to show both sides of the story, never firmly accepting the visions as reality but allowing the passion of the experience to speak for itself. Most of all, it hones in on the fact that these were good children and not overly religious.

If Mary were to choose children to carry her message for their humility, then Fátima makes a good case that the message was in capable hands no matter their age.

But make no mistake, while there were skeptics, the six-month encounter had lasting effects. Jacinta and Francisco Marto died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, and on May 13, 2017, they were canonized as Saints by Pope Francis.

The Women in Town

Ten years after their deaths, Lúcia committed her future to religion. She died in the Carmel of Saint Teresa in Coimbra in 2005 at the age of 97. Her process for canonization was opened in 2008.

The intense devotion of the children and the reaction of those not receiving the visions is fascinating, whether you are a religious person or not.

A time of war surely allowed many to believe even if they might not otherwise take note of what the children were experiencing. People need hope, and they need to fit in, too.

There is a final miracle six months after the Virgin first visited the children, which thousands of people witnessed. For some, it was all the proof they needed.

Harvey Keitel in Fatima

Once again, it's to a film's benefit that Fátima is getting released in 2020 when so many are hoping for a miracle. If only we'd use our powers of persuasion for good instead of cutting each other down as we are so wont to do with the help of social media.

Fátima offers compelling performances and something different to think about than our 2020 troubles, and you can catch it in theaters and on-demand on Friday, August 28.

Review

Editor Rating: 3.75 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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