FATIMA (2020)

August 27, 2020

 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.

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 question the Sister about what she experienced in 1917. We then flash back 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 praying 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 or those in the small Portugal 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 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 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.

Available in theaters and On Demand August 28, 2020

watch the trailer:

AQUARIUS (2016, Brazil)

November 12, 2016

aquarius Greetings again from the darkness. If you were an avid movie-goer in the 1970’s, you likely fell in love with Sonia Braga while watching Dona and Her Two Husbands (1976) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1978). Those movies catapulted the Brazilian actress to global stardom, and a long career limited only by some regrettable script choices.

Writer/director Kleber Mendonca Filbo wisely casts Ms. Braga in the lead of his latest, and she delivers what may be her best performance ever … and certainly one of the best by any actress this year. Clara is the lone holdout in a beachfront apartment complex against a corporate developer intent on modernizing the old building in order to maximize profits.

The film is divided into three parts: “Clara’s Hair”, “Clara’s Love”, and “Clara’s Cancer”. The initial segment is set in 1980 when Clara is recovering from cancer treatment and is attending the 70th birthday party for her beloved Aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez). Lucia’s flashbacks to her younger days bring a subtle smile to her face, while providing parallels to what we see later with Clara. Some secrets from family are treasured memories, not meant to be shared. As the story moves forward, we grow to admire and respect Clara and join in her defiance of the smirky hotshot developer.

The big company bullying the old lady would be an interesting and predictable story, but here it’s secondary to the story of a strong woman – a woman who overcomes cancer, carries on after the death of her husband, fights to keep her home, and generally lives life on her own terms. She maintains her strength and dignity despite outside influences.

A recurring theme throughout is “old vs. new”. From the first sequence with the “old” Aunt passing the baton to her younger niece, to the old lady battling the young developer in order to prevent the historic building from being turned into a modern co-op, to the contrast of the vinyl records of Clara’s collection to the digital music of the younger generation, to Clara’s preference for actual phone calls to texting. It’s the classic now versus then argument, and it’s summed up by Clara’s line to her kids: “When you like it, it’s vintage. When you don’t, it’s old.”

There are some similarities to Sebastian Lelo’s 2013 film Gloria, which featured an exceptional performance from Paulina Garcia, and this one utilizes some terrific “little” scenes … conversations with family and daily life with her housekeeper – all while staying close to a glass of wine, her favorite music, a cozy hammock, and her Barry Lyndon poster. While the ending is a bit disappointing, and Brazilian politics prevented it from being that country’s Oscar submission, those don’t negatively impact the strength of Sonia Braga’s Oscar worthy performance as we rejoice in the strength of an independent woman.

watch the trailer: