Fatima is a different type of faith-based film than what we've generally gotten the last few years, and that's a good thing. Director Marco Pontecorva has made a movie about the mystery of faith, rather than “Christian persecution” (as in the God's Not Dead series) or incredible miracles (like Breakthrough). This true story is honestly one of the most Catholic pictures I've ever seen, one that deals with the way Catholics process and express faith. Nonetheless, the message can be appreciated by Christians of any denomination.

We first meet Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga) as she is interviewed by a skeptical professor named Nichols (Harvey Keitel). He wants to know about an episode from her past that made her famous but strikes him as unlikely. Through extensive flashbacks, we see what happened to her. The 10-year-old Lucia (Stephanie Gil, in a very good performance) and her two younger cousins are playing out in a field when they are visited by the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro). She delivers to them a message of hope that is needed in their Portugese village, where each day brings news of local men perishing in WWI. At first, the kids decide to keep their vision to themselves. That doesn't last, and before long, everyone in town wants to follow them back out, hoping to see Mary, too.

So many compelling ideas are in Fatima, starting with the fact that seeing Mary puts pressure on Lucia and her cousins that, at such tender ages, they aren't equipped to handle. People approach them wanting miracles performed. A couple accuse them of lying when they come to the field and can't see Mary. The town mayor (Goran Visnjic) doesn't like people listening to children more than they listen to him. Also present is the suggestion that Mary approaches the kids because they're innocent and lack cynicism. Over the course of several visits with her, she doles out advice that they understand on a basic level, without being able to elaborate on it the way all the grown-ups want them to.

What this means is that everyone must have faith. Lucia must have faith that Mary has chosen her for a purpose. Her mother and all the others must have faith that these three children are telling the truth about seeing the Virgin Mary. This, to me, is the fundamental nature of religion. Those of us who believe put our faith in something we can feel without seeing, something that guides how we think and act, even though we have no tangible proof of its existence. Fatima depicts such faith in action, as the characters rely on it during the time of strife their country is enduring.

Gil and her co-stars, Jorge Lamelas and Alejandra Howard, are impressive together. They seem like real kids onscreen, conveying the wonder of witnessing something so spectacular. Asking three performers of their age to carry a full-length movie is risky. These children do it well, though. Fatima's themes come across more strongly because we buy into the experience they're working to make sense of. Imagine being ten or under, seeing something miraculous, then having adults around you demand to know much more than you've been given. The film portrays that nicely.

Some of the dialogue is a little overwritten, and the story brushes through the climactic Miracle of the Sun too quickly. That is, ostensibly, the payoff, so spending a bit more time on it would have given the movie's ending a little added punch. Fatima still has plenty about it that's special, including first-rate production values. Did Sister Lucia really see Mary? I don't know, but I certainly believe it's possible. That's faith, and it's a subject the film takes seriously, leaving you with a beautiful, uplifting feeling afterward.

out of four

Fatima is rated PG-13 for some strong violence and disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.