Fatima: Restoring faith in the Marian apparition flick

Gorgeously shot film about mystical children in turn-of-the-century Portugal

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Director: Marco Pontecorvo
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Visnjic, Stephanie Gil, Alejandra Howard, Jorge Lamelas, Lúcia Moniz, Marco d'Almeida, Joana Ribeiro, Harvey Keitel, Sônia Braga
Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins

Marian apparitions have fared variously on film. Jennifer Jones won an Academy Award for her depiction of the titular French mystic in Song of Bernadette (1943), yet nowadays she’s more readily recognised for turns in Duel in the Sun and The Towering Inferno, two Oscar nominations she failed to convert into wins.

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, despite having the clout of Warner Brothers behind it in 1952, is one of those hysterical B-pictures that existed as the seedy underbelly of biblical epics. It’s currently only of interest, insofar as anyone ever revisits it, as risible Red Scare propaganda.

Fatima, happily, is a much better film, one that intriguingly doubles as a tale of two radically different ideologies: Marco Pontecorvo is the son of the late, great Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed the powerful, politicised, neorealist classic The Battle of Algiers in 1966.  Marco, made his directorial debut with the Venice-winning Pa-Ra-Da in 2008, and has since distinguished himself as a cinematographer on Game of Thrones and Rome. At first glance, Fatima, a faith-based film concerning three mystical children in turn-of-the-century rural Portugal, couldn’t be less like his father’s radical masterpiece. Both films, however, deal with unshakeable faith.

Stephanie Gil plays 10-year-old Lucia, who, with her younger cousins Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas), is visited by the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro), who tells Lucia she must pray the rosary and suffer if the first World War is to end. The children’s account is inconsistent – Francisco can see the Virgin, yet cannot hear her – and they are repeatedly questioned, dismissed and cajoled by the progressive local mayor (Goran Visnjic), parish priest Fr Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida), and even Lucia’s religious mother, Maria Rosa (Lúcia Moniz). Swarms of believers soon descend upon the locale, buying up rosary beads and praying for miracles.


The children hold fast against their doubters. Decades later, Harvey Keitel’s cynical author is interviewing the older, still-insistent Lucia (Sonia Braga), who became a nun after her visions, for a book. This later timeline, featuring two of the planet’s most wonderful actors, adds clout to a film that, in stark contrast to most faith-based fodder, is gorgeously shot and designed. But might it be a sin to hide Braga, a wonderful carnal presence, under religious garb and a confessional screen? It ought to be.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic