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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fatima is a drama about a 1917 religious event referred to as "The Miracle of the Sun." Three children, ages 7 to 10, report that the Virgin Mary has appeared to them, asking them to deliver her message that World War I will end if people pray and "suffer greatly." Despite intense pressure by those in positions of power to change their story, the children demonstrate real integrity and continue to tell the truth. In an attempt to fulfill the need to "suffer," the oldest child, Lucia (Stephanie Gil), is shown harming herself in a couple of non-life-threatening ways. Angels share violent visions with the children, including flashes of gruesome battle scenes, priests being shot, and images of the fiery depths of hell. The timeline jumps between 1917 and 1989, when a skeptical professor is interviewing Lucia -- now an elderly nun -- about the events (and asking the questions that secular viewers might have). Even though the story is about children, it probably won't be terribly interesting to them. The film's value is more in understanding the circumstances around a modern-day miracle and what it takes to be granted sainthood.
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What's the story?
In FATIMA, in the spring of 1917, an angel of peace appears to 10-year-old Lucia (Stephanie Gil) outside the parish of Fátima, Portugal. A short time later, another heavenly creature appears to Lucia and her two cousins and asks that they deliver a message of how they can bring an end to World War I. The children quickly find themselves in the middle of a firestorm between church and government officials who pressure them to recant and pilgrims who want to share in the experience.
Is it any good?
Marco Pontecorvo's first English-language feature as a director won't make the angels sing, but it's everything you'd expect from a longtime cinematographer: It's beautifully shot. Dark caves, dingy homes, and drab clothing are made more dynamic, while angelic beings and the purity of children's faces shine bright. The gorgeous photography in Fatima shifts your brain's expectations: This isn't what we've come to expect from the typical low-budget faith-based film. Rather, this is a big production about characters of faith. For those (still) waiting for the moment when stories of faith really go mainstream, this is a step in that direction.
Unfortunately, the script doesn't carry an emotional impact and, therefore, doesn't engage viewers in what should be an earth-shattering tale. By the time we get to the miracle, it's frankly underwhelming. The audience most likely to be singing the movie's praises will be adults seeking insight -- and, of course, those of faith. To parents hoping to show -- not just tell -- their kids that miracles exist or to explain Mariology, this film falls flat. The idea that the Virgin Mary would show children gruesome images of war and a pope being shot in the head, take them on a journey to hell, and tell them that they personally must "suffer greatly" to end a world war and bring home their family members doesn't jibe with most modern-day Christian teachings. Pontecorvo does his best to bring the story to today's audiences by including a more modern-day author who's a skeptic, allowing him to ask a lot of hard questions. But most kids aren't going to be hanging on to find the answer -- they're going to wonder when they can leave the room.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the children in Fatima demonstrate integrity. How does that character strength help them get through trying times?
How does the movie depict the historic events at its center? How accurate do you think it is? What are the challenges of adapting a fact-based story with supernatural elements for the screen?
How does this film demonstrate the definition of "faith"? Do you agree with it?
Who do you think the movie's intended audience is? Do you think it's for people who already practice a Christian faith, or will it appeal to those of other religions and secular audiences equally?
Do you think there are modern-day miracles -- or tiny miracles that go overlooked? Do you think science and faith can work together, or does it have to be one or the other?
- In theaters: August 28, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2020
- Cast: Alba Baptista, Harvey Keitel, Goran Visnjic
- Director: Marco Pontecorvo
- Studio: Picturehouse
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence and disturbing images
- Last updated: September 4, 2020
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