There is a new film – The 13th Day: The True Story of Fatima – about the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal. I was sent a copy for review and I watched it.
Before anything else, this film is going to be a source of lots of discussion. I think it will help to spur interest in the message of Our Lady and to consider it in our time.
The film opens with a touch of the apocalyptic via a reference to the red dragon of the Book of Revelation. Also, at the beginning the is some narration by Lucia, 20 years after the apparitions, to put you in the historical context.
Do not expect a documentary, or anything like a complete story of the whole story of the Fatima apparition. The film is not long and it doesn’t move very quickly. Therefore, a great deal of the story is simply left out. Don’t be expecting a movie like the trailer, either. The trailer is actually more engaging than the movie, in some ways. But let’s leave that aside.
I liked the film, in the final analysis, but in the way a guy who has watched a lot of "film" for several decades likes films.
The acting is good enough, I suppose. A very strong performance is giving by the ominous mother of Lucia. Eventually she and Lucia will will have together perhaps the best acting moment of the film. The three children, prettier by far than their historical counterparts, are fairly convincing. You will, however, be hard pressed to see a 10 year old girl in the actress who plays Lucia.
But that ultimately won’t be too much of a problem in that the film is highly stylized. Most of the work is done in black and white. The black and white is used to contrast the normal with that which is touched by the supernaturally. When the supernatural intervenes, we are given strong sepia and pastels. There are also little splashes of color at other moments to get your attention. But it is a little contrived.
And so we are introduced to our first problem. The black and white with splashes of color thing we have seen before, for example in Schindler’s List. In this movie it is even done, again, with a burning candle. When I heard the narration at the beginning, I couldn’t help but think of the beginning of the first of the Lord of the Rings movies when Galadriel is filling us in on the past. The music is derivative too, you will hear a little splash of Allegri’s Miserere. At the end of the movie is the eye-roll provoking pop single style song over the credits, in a style that conflicts with the rest of the movie. The style of the filming is that of an early silent movie in some respects. You may be reminded, as I was, of Grapes of Wrath or the classic of the 1920’s The Passion of Saint Joan (of Arc), remastered not long ago with new music sung by the Anonymous 4. Lo and behold in this film, in the credits, you find the Anonymous 4 as well. The bottom line, this is a deft recycling of some things you will have seen before.
After a while I was looking for things that I had seen before, as you will too if you watch a lot of movies. And not just movies. The color scheme, shot framing and camera angles smack of the graphic novel so popular with young people.
Still… to be fair… the whole incident of Fatima was a splash of glorious color in a dark flat fearful time.
And so we arrive at their who I think their target audience probably is. I think that teens and young people will resonate with this perhaps more than more seasoned Catholics. That is a good thing, because they are the ones we need to get interested in the message of Our Lady. It seems to me that the elements the makers imitated will capture their attention.
So, young people strike me as the target. I wonder if this is good for younger children, actually. There are some pretty ominous moments which could be scary for youngsters. I don’t know. We have to remember that the three children were sometimes frightened too.
A few details. I think you will be pleased with the way the Virgin Mary is portrayed. You will be pleased with the "Miracle of the Sun".
Going on. The makers I think must have made a choice to focus on the emotions of the principles and their relationships rather than try to tell a more complete story of the apparitions. I got the idea that within this highly stylized film, with its fusion of graphic novel with silent film, we also had a dash of commedia dell’arte going on: the characters, while not untrue to their historical counter-parts, were perhaps a little like stock characters, pure types. The secondary characters and extras had fascinating faces, which were made even more interesting by their treatment in light and sharp shadows. The actors were expressive and they pushed themselves out to you through the screen. There were a couple times I wished the director would have just let us see them do their thing without the distracting style.
Concerning the Third (or Fourth) Secret. The film doesn’t really go there very much. Some time is given to the vision which is the subject of the part of the Third Secret revealed a few years ago. You see the devastated city and the bodies of the slain, the image of the bishop in white (obviously the Holy Father in the film) going up the slope of a hill to a crucifix where he is killed. As a matter of fact, that moment is one of my points of concern for young children. Still, regarding the Third Secret, the film neither dwells on it or ignores it. It is there, but it isn’t given lots of attention. The door is not slammed on the possibility, raised by some, that there is more to the Third Secret than we have been told. Again, the film began with the sight of Sr. Lucia 20 years after than apparitions writing things down at the command of her superiors.
The movie will probably be a starting point for discussions also of that controversial topic.
At this point you might be thinking that I intend to pan this film. I don’t.
There are some real strengths and good moments.
For example, given that I think the target audience is teens and young people, the reimaging of the story for the screen, in a style familiar to their age group, will surely draw them in.
Also, one of the subplots in the film comes from the historical context. The anti-Catholic government is shown to be fearful of these apparitions and pretty hateful, all in all. The reps of the government who try to frighten the children, the reporter who comes for the October apparition, smack of something we are experiencing in our own day. The bubbling undercurrent of potential wars, even the death of Francesco by influenza seems current.
It seemed to me that we have a film that repackages the Fatima story for younger people in our own day, facing today’s problems. This is a great strength. As a matter of fact, it had the effect of me of prompting me to look up on some materials about Our Lady and her message and reach for a couple of my books to review. So… it was effective!
Therefore, I think this would be a very good project for an evening or more in a parish, with discussion before and after. The film can be obtained with a year long license for group screenings for example at parishes or in schools.
You can go to the site The 13th Day to find out where the film is showing and to get the license package.