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Fatima (M) - 113 minutes

Updated: Aug 31

In 1917, during WWI, a scared 10-year-old girl had a vision that would shape the course of her life. That is the opening scene of Fatima.

Portugal had recently become a Republic, inspired by liberal and enlightened values, and was thus anti-clerical.

Next, we cut to a convent in the riverside city of Coimbra in 1989. That girl, now an ageing nun (Sônia Braga), relays her story to a professor (Harvey Keitel) – a non-believer – who is writing a book.

The first vision Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) sees, while in a cave on the outskirts of Fátima seven decades earlier, is that of an angel.

The second, while still in there, is her brother, Manuel (João Arrais), being injured in combat.

Thereafter, there are frequent appearances by the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro), who is seen not just by her, but also by her two cousins – Jacinta (Alejandra Howard), 7 and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas), 8.

Lúcia is part of a small, hardworking, God-fearing community of farmers, which includes her mother and father.

Her visions are immediately denounced as lies and the work of the devil.

Her mother, Maria (Lúcia Moniz), frequently admonishes her.

Yet, try as she, the local priest, Father Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida) and the powerful Mayor, Artur (Goran Višnjić) do to get Lúcia to recant and keep her mouth shut, she refuses to be silenced.

The Virgin Mary has told her, her cousins and the community to constantly pray and repent for their sins, otherwise an even more cataclysmic war will confront them.

Maria’s major concern is the safe return of her only son.

Each day she, Lúcia and the townsfolk turn out in the local square to hear the Mayor read out the names of the war’s latest victims – and those missing in action – as they relate to the community.

It is clear the path to redemption will not be an easy one and a great burden and responsibility rests on the shoulders of Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco.

But they will not relent and quickly the word spreads far beyond Fátima, so each month – as the Virgin Mary appears before Lúcia and her cousins in Lúcia’s father’s fields – an ever-increasing throng gathers.

It would be easy to dismiss the thought of turning such an epiphany into a plausible feature film as fanciful.

Indeed, at the start I was highly dubious.

The very idea of credibly representing an Angel and the Virgin Mary on screen could easily have turned the whole thing into a folly.

Fortunately, not so.

While not without flaws, Fatima weaves a relatively engaging tale of a dutiful young girl who is desperate to do the right thing in the face of division and despair.

Stephanie Gil displays a deft touch as the lead, never succumbing to a syrupy representation, which would have totally undermined the film.

I found some of the other actors less convincing.

The so-called miracles are not overdone or overblown.

Overall, the movie takes a significantly gentler approach than what I would term “witches being burnt at the stake”.

Some may see Fatima as poppycock.

I, though, regard it as a fair attempt to capture faith on film.

Rather M, it scores a 6 out of 10.

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