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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The 13th Day: the Story of Fatima

I watched The 13th Day last night with DH (shorthand for "dear husband" for the uninitiated). It's a 2009 film about the miracle of Fatima and I think it is superb. I've read Lucia's memoirs and the movie is true to the events. Choosing to shoot primarily in black and white and sepia tones, with color saved for the vision of hell and the miracle of the sun, the cinematographers made a good choice. It gives a sense of the historical period when things happened. Since the newsreel shots of World War I are also in black and white it also provides a consistency that was effective. The technical aspects of the film are fine and well done although the nighttime sky with the moon and stars looks fake as does some of the rain in the miracle sequence. Those are small criticisms in an overwhelmingly effective presentation which was shot mainly on location in Portugal.

One of the things I especially appreciated about the film was the screenplay. Often anachronisms creep into modern films about older events (Check out the ridiculous dialogue in the Richard Burton/Liz Taylor extravaganza Anthony and Cleopatra), but these writers avoided that. All the conversations are stamped with the historical time without being stilted.

The opening scene shows Lucia as an adult and now a nun writing her memoirs at the direction of her superior. She sits at a desk by candlelight telling the story as she writes. Occasionally, she appears again as a third person narrator. The switch between present and past is effectively done.

The children are wonderfully portrayed by the little actors as are the parents, especially Lucia's mother played by Jane Lesley. In her book about the events, Fatima in Lucia's Own Words, Lucia describes how severe her mother was. You see that throughout, but without the woman becoming a stereotyped "mommie dearest." Her mother's gradual softening culminates in a tender scene near the end when Momma tells Lucia she will attend the October 13th apparition and "die" with her. Jacinta and Francisco's father was also well-portrayed. He never doubted the children and the exchange with Lucia's dad about "acting like a father" was played in an understated, not macho, way. I found it touching. In a culture where fatherhood has been so denigrated, it is refreshing to see a man played with quiet strength and dignity. He made me think of St. Joseph.

The only jarring note I found in the film was the scene when the children are taken by the mayor of Ourem and put in the jail cell with the male prisoners. One of the men, the most menacing in fact, dances with Jacinta. I couldn't help thinking about the child sex abuse scandals as he picked her up and held her in his arms. But that is putting a modern interpretation on a past event, one that really happened. Here's how Lucia described it in her first memoir:
Among the prisoners, there was one who played the concertina. To divert our attention, he bgan to play and they all started singing. They asked us if we know how to dance. We said we knew the [fandango] and the [vira]. Jacinta's partner was a poor thief who, finding her so tiny, picked her up and went on dancing with her in his arms! We only hope that Our Lady has had pity on his soul and converted him!
As I watched the film there were several times I noticed a resemblance between my grandson Ryan, who is sweet and tender-hearted, and Francisco, the little shepherd boy. It made me smile and reminded me how similar children can be even separated by generations and an entire way of life.

I reread a portion of Lucia's memoirs after seeing the movie and found lines that were directly incorporated into the script. Obviously, Ian and Dominic Higgins the producers, directors, and scriptwriters for the film, as well as the main catalyst for everything else, had great respect for the story and wanted to portray it accurately. In an interview on The 13th Day website, Ian pointed this out saying:
The 13th Day is a dramatization of actual events and most of the characters that appear in the film actually existed, so research was crucial from that point of view and from day one, everyone on the team was committed to realizing this film in such a way that it kept as true to the actual events as possible. As filmmakers we’re also very big believers in the value of research as inspiration too. We’ve found so many great ideas for a scene, hiding away in the pages of an old book while researching the script. It’s like digging for gold, there are so many fantastic nuggets of information buried away, just waiting to be re-discovered, it’s a really exciting part of the process.
If you have wondered about Fatima and what happened there, you don't want to miss this movie. It would make a great addition to any Catholic familiy's film library giving a glimpse into extraordinary events that occasionally happen to ordinary people. I found it an inspiration to the soul and satisfying proof that it doesn't take big bucks to tell a great story. This was the first feature-length film from this talented pair which gives one great hope for the future. Hollywood no longer has a stranglehold on the industry, praise God. I highly recommend The 13th Day!


Dolorosa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Bauer said...

I thought this movie was tremendous. I extolled its virtues over at my blog as well (

A tremendous achievement in content and style.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the link. We looked at it from different places, but came to the same enthusiastic conclusion.

Dolorosa said...

The link I posted was wrong so I changed it today. I haven't seen this movie yet but I wanted you and your readers to know about the Fatima Challenge Conference held on 3 May in Rome and the website is
where you can submit questions, etc.