“Fatima” (2020) is a movie about the events around a supposed series of Virgin Maria appearances to three small children in the small Portuguese village of Fatima.
I suppose it is fitting that there are two movies out right now about sightings of the Virgin Mary. There is this one, about the events in Fatima, and then The Unholy which is a horror film about a demon impersonating Mary to believers. In that horror movie the girl who was visited was protected by her priest uncle because he knew that the fate of people who see Mary is usually not good. As he said in that movie, “two of the three children were dead in a year and the other was locked away in a convent for the rest of her life.” We get to see some of the glimpses of that in this movie.
As a child when I was taught about Fatima you think of it as being a wondrous beautiful event with very concrete observable facts. I imagined that people could see Mary as the kids did just like one could see ghosts that appeared to people. I thought they’d be little rock stars of their time in a good way. Someone touched by god, or Jesus’s mother’s spirit anyway, would be seen as highly spiritual beings that would be revered by the people. That isn’t how it played out. This is not a feel good story about how uplifting faith is. It is about how hard faith is for the children and the family. This is not a prosperity gospel hack story. This is like the story of Job. The Marian visitations bring nothing but notoriety and misery on the children and their family. The movie captures exactly that.
The movie also captures the very circumstantial nature of the events themselves. The first time the children see Mary they are alone. Word traveled fast though. Each successive visitation, one per month, were to ever growing numbers of people. No one ever sees Mary except the three children in that exact spot though. She doesn’t appear on a whim or with summoning at that location. She appeared once a month at about the same time of day but only to the three children, who then relayed their conversation with Mary. Words from Mary were things like, “Pray the rosary,” or “Stop insulting Jesus.” That sort of thing. If someone is expecting grand Hollywood style apparitions sensationalizing the Fatima visitations this isn’t it. This is really about grit, struggle, and religious persecution in WWI era Portugal for practicing Catholics. The revelations appear underwhelming because they actually were. The closest thing that we get to a miracle on the screen is torrential rain stopping long enough for a visitation and a solar event that scares everyone present.
The movie topic is slow so the movie itself is slow. Being a non-believer but one who grew up Catholic and very much believing in the literalness of the Fatima story I was drawn into the story more than if I was a life long believer of another religion. Like when watching The Unholy though the realness of the energy of what they did felt more like watching The Craft in terms of a realism thing. To their credit they didn’t try to sensationalize it. I found myself getting distracted with my Christianity-skeptical mind though as I play back through behaviors that I used to do now thinking that they are just performative. They aren’t just performative though. When I did it I truly felt it, as do active believers. Again though to a non-believer it is like watching Hindus pray to a statue of Ganesha that is supposedly drinking milk.
Overall I found the movie well done but a bit slow. The interpolations of the late-in-life Sister Lucia, the oldest of the three Fatima children, felt mostly superfluous. It did allow us to inject the skeptic’s view of things and see how the now aging adult views the world as a still pious person. It also gave us a chance to see Harvey Keitel in a low key docile role of the Professor Nichols who writes from a skeptical point of view on Marian appearances.
While it was enjoyable for me I think a lot of that was nostalgia for my former Catholicism. A practicing Christian would probably enjoy it far more and someone with no Christian background or interest in these things far less. I’m going To give it a 6/10.