Marco Pontecorvo's first English-language feature explores the ramifications of the 'apparitions' witnessed by three Portuguese children in 1917. 


Fatima was directed and co-written by Marco Pontecorvo who, being the son of the noted director Gillo Pontecorvo, can be said to have inherited some of his father’s talent. This feature (his third, but he is also an established director for Italian television) is very well made. However, it has a character very different from the films of his father who was noted for choosing political subject matter and especially so in the case of his classic 1966 film The Battle of Algiers. Fatima belongs to an utterly different genre and one that rarely has a good reputation among professional critics: the clue is in the title which refers to Our Lady of Fatima and the subject matter deals with those occasions in 1917 when three young children - the oldest being the 10-year-old Lúcia - claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary.


That great Catholic filmmaker Robert Bresson had all the artistry needed to make films in which religious issues were central and which were highly respected. However, since his death the majority of movies treating religious themes have come from America and have been propagandist in intent, often sentimental and likely to appeal principally to audiences who are staunch churchgoers. The fact that Fatima despite being set in Portugal is played in English is, perhaps, indicative of a desire not to attract only arthouse audiences, but, if its appeal is potentially mainstream, it does not play down. It is, in fact, far superior to the competition even if the material may actively discourage some from seeing it.


There is a written statement at the start indicating that the film was inspired by historical events and by the memories of Sister Lúcia and that does point to this being a film made by and for believers. Nevertheless, the storytelling and the characterisations avoid one-sided simplicities. Lúcia, admirably played by Stephanie Gil, firmly believes that she has indeed seen the Virgin Mary and has been asked by her to pray for peace. Despite that, we see how her mother (Lúcia Moniz) is inclined to disbelieve her and how the Church itself brings pressure on her to recant. This is partly due to political considerations since in 1917 Portugal was an anti-clerical republic. In consequence positive responses to Lúcia’s claims became strong enough to antagonise the authorities who then closed down the local church. The mayor (Goran Višnjić), a man who dismisses religion as mere superstition, is at odds with his wife (Iris Cayatte) and on all sides, even from the crowds of supporters, the pressure on Lúcia and her even younger companions (Alejandra Howard and Jorge Lamelas) grows and threatens to overturn their lives.


Finely shot in colour and ‘Scope by Vincenzo Carpineta, Fatima tells its story in flashback since the context in which it is set is that of a detailed conversation in 1989 between the elderly Lúcia, by then Sister Lúcia, and an author carrying out research, Professor Nichols. These roles are relatively brief, but they anchor the film thanks to the excellently judged portrayals by Sônia Braga and Harvey Keitel and it is again characteristic of the film that these two, although amicable, are at odds since Nichols is and remains a non-believer. A regular feature of the main narrative is to be found in announcements of the latest numbers of war dead and Fatima presents its Christian tale in a way that never becomes divorced from the real world. Consequently, it questions faith even as it offers support to those able to embrace it. A few stylised images apart, it is very well judged.




Cast: Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Višnjić, Stephanie Gil, Alejandra Howard, Jorge Lamelas, Lúcia Moniz, Marco D’Almeida, Joana Ribeiro, Ana Moreira, Ángela Pinto, Carla Chambel, Sônia Braga, Harvey Keitel.


Dir Marco Pontecorvo, Pro James T. Volk, Dick Lyles, Stefano Buono, Maribel Lopera Sierra, Marco Pontecorvo, Rose Ganguzza and Natasha Howes, Ex Pro Marco Valerio Pugini, Holly Carney, David Fischer, Frida Torresblanco and Matthew J. Malek, Co-Pro Ute Leonhardt and Edoardo Ferreti, Co-Ex Pro David Nicksic, Screenplay Marco Pontecorvo, Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi, Ph Vincenzo Carpineta, Pro Des Cristina Onori, Ed Alessio Doglione, Music Paolo Buonvino, Costumes Daniela Ciancio.


Origin Entertainment/Elysia Productions/Rose Pictures-Republic Film.
113 mins. Portugal/USA. 2019. Rel: 25 June 2021. Cert. 12A.