Review – Mother Knows Best (“Fatima”)

Every now and then I enjoy a faith-based film, especially one made with a decent script. Of course, with any Hollywood film (this one was made on location in Portugal), this movie was made with a fictionalized frame-work story to connect the “based on real events” main plot.

Our main story starts in 1917 Fatima, Portugal, while the connecting frame-work plot deals with Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel), an author in 1989 who’s trying to complete his book on the Fatima miracle by talking to the last remaining child who spoke to the Virgin Mary, Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga), who’s now living in a convent. As Nichols (an atheist) discusses his notes with her, we see her life unfold. It’s 1917 in Fatima and 10-year-old Lucia (Stephanie Gil) is just a simple goat herder in a small village, living with Maria (Lucia Moniz), her super-strict religious mother and understanding father, Antonio (Marco d’Almeida).

While playing in the fields one day with her cousins, 7-year-old Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and 8-year-old Franciso (Jorge Lamelas), they get the surprise of their young lives. The Mother of Jesus herself (Joana Ribeiro) appears and starts talking to the kids, telling them to pray and to meet there again every month at the same time. Well, needless to say, the kids can’t keep a secret like this mum, and soon the whole town is buzzing with the news. Problem is, Maria is convinced her child is lying and making the others lie too. Lucia continues to confess her belief, even though the parish priest (Joaquin de Almeida) expresses his doubts.

As the months progress, crowds start to gather to watch the three kids talk to the Virgin Mary (even though only the three children can see her), and start begging them for miracles. This causes the atheistic town Mayor (Goran Visnjic) to put his foot down to stop all this nonsense, even though the massive crowds would prove him otherwise. Meanwhile, the three kids are cruelly interrogated left and right, yelled at by non-believers and their parents, and subjected to horrible visions of Hell and apocalyptical future events by the Virgin. (see the Fatima Letters for that!)

Finally, on October 13, 1917, true to her word, the Mother of God showed 70,000 eye-witnesses a frightening miracle that involved the sun dropping out of the sky. This is only the second movie made about this event, the first being the 1952 The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, which made more fictionalized detours in this true story. And while in that movie the Virgin Mary was depicted as a ghostly spirit with no real features, this movie has the blessed Mother portrayed by a flesh and blood actress. But, like in most movies, she’s white and not the real dark-skinned European descent that she was. Oh, well…

Written by director Marco Pontecorvo (Games of Thrones cinematographer) and Valerio D’Annunzio (all Italian TV series), this retelling is reverent enough, but at times strays too much into the ‘artsy-craftsy’ department as director Pontecorvo likes his fancy camerawork to hang on faces a bit too long and too close. However, the script more than makes up for that as the tension for the three kids, especially young Lucia, ratchets up as they are ridiculed and set upon at every turn. As far as the religious tone of the film, it doesn’t hit you over the head with a sledgehammer as many faith-based films tend to do. Instead, the story centers on the children, their lives, and their relationship with the mother of Jesus Christ.

Little known outside of Spain, Stephanie Gil as Lucia carries this movie beautifully, as she depicts a loving and confused little girl that is thrust into the limelight. In fact, most of the cast is from Spain but with hardly an accent. Another surprise is the casting of Joaquin de Almeida as the righteous and kind parish priest; he almost always plays a vicious, evil person in American movies! There have been three famous Virgin Mary appearances: Fatima, Lourdes in France, and Guadalupe in Mexico, and only a few represented on film. For those of faith, this is a nice departure from all the superhero, drama, comedy, and fictionized garbage movies out there. Enjoy!

Currently streaming on FandangoNow and other VOD services

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