Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fatima: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 155 plus films later, here is the review for October 2020.

Fatima
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Fatima is a movie for the faithful. Directed by Marco Pontecorvo, it tells the story of ten-year-old Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) and her two young cousins, Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas). They report a visitation from Mary, the mother of God. She promises to return monthly, with words of comfort and prediction. Children can be impressionable. Would you believe a child?

In devout Portugal, news of future visits from Mary, attract the masses. Month by month, the crowds gather. Some 70,000 are present for what was the final reported visitation on October 13, 1917. What happened is known as “The Miracle of the Sun.” Lúcia asks Mary for a miracle. Many in the crowd reported seeing the sun spin three times. Each rotation lasted three or four minutes, casting rainbow coloured light across those gathered. Others in the crowd saw nothing. Who would you believe?

In a country racked by war, the voice of suffering is ever-present. Some 12,000 Portuguese troops died during World War I, while civilian deaths due to famine and flu exceeded 220,000. The mother who prayed the rosary for her son to be safe becomes the one who yells in grief as Lucia walks past her door. When Mary speaks of world peace to a child, would you believe?

The voice of religion is heard through the village priest, Father Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida). During the first decades of the twentieth century, a secularising government placed the church under intense pressure. Clergy were imprisoned, seminaries closed and religious orders suppressed. If there is a time for every activity under the sun, then when is the time for keeping a low profile and when is the time to believe a child? In a number of touching scenes, the potential of saying the rosary to generate peaceful protest is clearly visible.

The voice of the sceptic is heard through Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel). The year is 1989, and in the name of research, the academic professor visits the now elderly Lucia. Why do divine apparitions always conform to the iconography of the culture in which they appear? Why would stigmata appear on the palms of the hands when it is now known that Roman crucifixion involved the binding of the wrists? These visits are a skilful piece of plot development. Over several scenes, the events of 1917 are given room to breathe. As the present interrogates the past, the space for intellectual doubt is held. In the face of secular scepticism, would you believe a child?

What Fatima lacked was the voice of development. In a poignant moment, Lucia believes Mary is telling her to learn to read. An illiterate ten-year-old, tending sheep rather than attending school, suggests a peasant economy. Is organised religion a force for progress? Or is it the opiate of the people, suppressing women and children in patriarchy and poverty?

Fatima rewards but slowly. Over time, you realise you are looking at life through the eyes of a child. If you were that child, would you believe?

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

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