1917: the turmoil of that year remains fresh in cinema-goers’ minds thanks to Sam Mendes. In Fátima, Portugal, the residents gather in the town square to hear a list of those killed or missing in action. With every name, another person waiting with baited breath breaks down. This is a community with its heart far away on the battlefield, broken by poverty and loss.
A young shepherd (Stephanie Gil) wandering in caves and on hills like many a Prophet before her, starts having visions. Lúcia sees her brother caught in the carnage of fire, blood and anguish, and from the Virgin Mary herself, is given a message of peace for those who save themselves from the spiritual anarchy of godlessness.
Framed by the narrations of the older—now Sister, Lúcia (Sônia Braga) in 1989, the most fascinating dialogue comes from her discussions with an atheist historian (Harvey Keitel). He boldly questions her assertions and this retrospection adds layers to the event, but alas, this aspect of the story is largely relegated for the straightforward reconstruction of her experiences.
Fatima follows a series of visitations to Lúcia, and her younger cousins, Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) and Jacinta (Alejandra Howard). These children are the future, unjaded and unaware of political propaganda, innocent and receptive to the Lady’s message. As the government, embodied by the Mayor (Goran Visnjic), glorifies the war effort and dismisses faith as superstition, the thousands who believe in these children’s visions become a threat he tries to eliminate.
Several generations of actresses bring personality to Fatima, from the wide-eyed central performance of Gil, to the kind eyes of Mary (Joana Ribiero) to Lucia’s mother (Lúcia Moniz) to Braga, who is also legendary in this year’s Bacurau. However, without a more creative and exploratory approach, they have little to work with beyond a linear, to-the-point script. Despite its heavenly subject matter, the most thrilling soundtrack choice is in the credits, where it is too late to save the painfully ordinary storytelling.
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy” and I am a firm believer in faith of different shapes and forms. For the sake of religious education and awareness, Fatima is a helpful origin story to a well-regarded place of pilgrimage, which will be used by at least one teacher who doesn’t have a lesson plan. But, as much as I hate to besmirch a film bearing my name, on a cinematic level, it doesn’t have a strong enough script or build enough of an ethereal atmosphere to elevate it above the level of a TV movie’s documentary recreation.
Fatima will be available in select drive-in cinemas in the US and on VOD from August 28th
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.