My first thought when I saw the Virgin Mary was: “She’s barefoot. And walking in mud.” 

And for that reason alone, I was hooked. That kind of realism is part of what makes the depiction of the Blessed Mother in the new movie “Fatima” so captivating. This Mary is one of us.

We’re accustomed to seeing Mary-as-apparition in the movies as a hazy, almost dream-like figure (“Song of Bernadette,” “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”).  But this Mother of God is rooted in reality. The children try to explain to anyone who will listen that this woman is as real as any other person — and, honestly, I believe it. The bare feet, the crisp veil framing her face, the dangling rosary, the spotless white linen she wears — stained, briefly, by the trickling blood of her pierced heart during one apparition — all work together to convince us that this is Mary incarnate and Mary immaculate, not Mary imagined.

It’s a story Catholics know well. When I was in grade school, we all saw “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” on a big screen in the school auditorium, and I still remember squinting to try and figure out what the lady of the title looked like. You don’t have that problem in this movie. (She’s charmingly played here by Portuguese actress and model Joana Ribeiro.) And you won’t have any problem, either, following the familiar trajectory of the story, as the children deal with doubters and deniers (and even, at times, the overwhelming burdens of celebrity, as people plead for prayers), finally leading us to the “miracle of the sun” that captivated thousands and resulted in Fatima becoming one of the great pilgrimage sites in the world.

The movie also touches on themes beyond religion — war, politics, family, and more. It may seem  even more timely in this season of pandemic, with some scenes depicting the closing of churches in an effort to tamp down on religious fanaticism once the apparitions become public.

The two best-known actors in the film — Harvey Keitel and Sonia Braga — appear briefly to frame the story. Keitel is a skeptical writer who comes to the cloister to interview Braga’s Sister Lucia in the last days of her life. Their debate is familiar and predictable. But it helps to turn some attention questions of faith that have persisted through time — and it reminds us that this is  actually a modern story. The contemporary scenes — he arrives in a Mercedes — stand in contrast to the earthy, pastoral look of the flashbacks, which seem almost medieval in comparison. The apparitions happened just a century ago, but it seems almost like a different millennia.

At bottom, this is a faithful, realistic and rewarding vision that makes the incredible credible. With this film, the story of Fatima has been reimagined and retold for a new generation, and done with both a reverence and realism that will resonate with a modern audience.

But don’t take my word for it. See it and believe.

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The movie will be released in some theaters and on demand on Friday, August 28. Visit the Fatima website for details on how you can view it. Check out the trailer below.