Cinematic Releases: Fatima (2020) - Reviewed

The faith testing story of ‘Our Lady of Fátima’, which originated in 1917 based upon the testimonies of three shepherd children in Fátima, Portugal who claimed to have witnessed three apparitions of the Virgin Mary, remains one of the most widely discussed examples of possible inexplicable miracles occurring in the twentieth century.  Drawing both worship and controversy for years, the highly cinematic story of an extraordinary series of events in Fatima was first brought to the silver screen in 1952 with John Brahm’s The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima. 
Though fictionalizing a composite character for narrative storytelling it took the tale seriously and also dramatized the equally debated ‘Miracle of the Sun’ where some 70,000 people witnessed the sun moving about the sky in ways that could only confirm the existence of the Virgin Mary.  After many numerous televised versions of the story as well as documentary films still speculating on the existence of miracles in our modern world, now here is Marco Pontecorvo’s Fatima in limited theatrical as well as VOD release.  Directed by the son of the great Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo best known for his still searing masterwork The Battle of Algiers, Marco Pontecorvo’s take on the Fatima story is a quiet but occasionally stylized widescreen film which may not convert newcomers but will reaffirm others’ belief in the prospect of Heaven and Hell. 

Told largely in present-day flashbacks by Sister Lúcia (Sônia Braga from Kiss of the Spider Woman) through interviews conducted by the film’s voice of skepticism Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel), the film jumps back into 1917 at the height of the first World War.  Following then 10-year-old Lúcia dos Santos (Stephanie Gil) and her two young cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto who one day in their rural village claimed to have witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary.  While their testimonies incite equal amounts of believers and scoffers from the locals, it also draws the ire of the Catholic Church and government who mutually try to pressure the children into recanting their story. 
A modestly budgeted period piece shot largely in low key desert brown hues by Vincenzo Carpineta, Fatima as a film is a typical but welcome faith based effort which comes at a time where getting a cinematic story out into the open is as much of an uphill battle for filmmakers as it is for the three children professing their faith.  Beset by numerous releasing delays amid the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this new Fatima crept into theaters without much promotional buzz and like the apparition herself simply appeared among the new releases.  While not displaying the technical or narrative brilliance of his father Gillo, Marco Pontecorvo who co-wrote the screenplay with Valerio D’Annunzio serves up an otherwise engaging picture led by a gifted performance from Stephanie Gil who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. 

The story of Fatima and the ongoing following around the world it engendered was new to me through Pontecorvo’s film which proved to be one of the better recent faith-based films to come out in some time.  The early-access rental price-tag might be too expensive for some and the risks of entering a theater right now aren’t worth it.  That said, while not quite reaching the heights of Kevin Reynolds Risen, Fatima is proof positive you can still make a broadly appealing faith-based picture with talented filmmakers behind it.  Marco Pontecorvo has a long way to go before achieving the kind of cinematic immortality his father did but for my money the man is off to a good start.

--Andrew Kotwicki