Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not Catholic and did not grow up learning much about Catholicism. However, I have heard the story of Fatima, Portugal, and the 3 young shepherds who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. Writer-Director Marco Pontecorvo and co-writers Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi deliver a dutiful re-telling of the events that led up to the “Miracle of the Sun” in 1917.
The movie begins in 1989 as Professor Nicols (Harvey Keitel) visits Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga), now an octogenarian, at her nunnery. The professor is quite the skeptic, but it’s crucial to his new book project that he questions the Sister about what she experienced in 1917. We then flashback to that era when 10-year-old Lucia (Stephanie Gil) and her cousins, 7-year-old Jacinto (Alejandra Howard) and 8-year-old Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) are youngsters working as shepherds for the family flock of sheep. One day, a vision appears to the three children. It’s the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro) offering words of hope and a request for prayer and strong faith.
Of course kids are kids, so their secret gets spilled almost immediately. As you would expect, no one believes them. Not their family nor those in the small village. The townspeople gather regularly in the square to hear the Mayor (Goran Visnjic) read the names of the local boys and men who have been killed in the war. It’s a gut-wrenching occurrence for all involved, and yet another opportunity for the mean-spirited folks to accuse the kids of lying about what they’ve seen. The local priest (Joaquim de Almeida) tries to frighten them out of the story, and even Lucia’s mother (Lucia Moniz) scolds and belittles her.
“The faith of a child” has rarely been more evident than with young Lucia. She stays strong despite being ostracized by the villagers, the church, and even her family. The film makes a clear observation about faith and religion. What is religion but believing and having faith in something intangible – something that can’t be seen or touched. Director Pontecorvo delivers a faith-based film, yet one that is not preachy. It does make us wonder why the religious leaders are themselves so lacking in true faith, and why the politician is envious of the youngsters who draw an audience. Photographs of that day in 1917…the Miracle of the Sun…are shown as part of the closing credits, while Andrea Bocelli’s remarkable voice sings out. It’s a low-budget film with some overacting (from adults), but the message and the performance of young Stephanie Gil make it worthwhile.