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November 22, 2009

Fatima message gets new life in film

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


The 13th Day” is a triumph of a film. Created to spread the message of Fatima, it was going to be a 10- minute informational short, but it grew into a feature film.

The Brothers Higgins (Ian and Dominic) have a particular artistic view and have combined older film-making techniques and sensibilities (think “Passion of Joan of Arc,” “Citizen Kane,” “Diary of a Country Priest,” with a pinch of Westerns) with modern digital filmmaking capabilities. The film is mostly in black and white. The result? Stunning genius and an intense religious and spiritual experience. It would make an excellent retreat film.

The film is highly stylized. Ultra-dramatic blocking, soft focus, chiaroscuro, use of surreal and almost-colorized color help the viewer focus on what cannot be seen. The choice of a kind of serious, spooky, supernatural thriller tone (replete with requisite ravens) is rigidly adhered to. And why not? We’re talking grave spiritual warfare here: World War I, World War II and hell. What matters could be more weighty? And real?

But the film doesn’t feel stiff. It is luminous. The actors get to emote as the camera lingers on their faces. The three children are first-generation Portuguese non-actors, and they give natural, realistic performances, almost in contrast to their more polished adult counterparts.

Our Lady’s face is beautiful, luminescent and glimpsed through bright white light. This film portrays Our Lady of Fatima almost as Our Lady of Sorrows. But it makes sense because the world was enduring incredible suffering during that time and would endure more.

The special effects in “The 13th Day” are exciting and make one think: Why shouldn’t we be using them for the Divine and not just for monsters, explosions, destruction and the demonic.

When Lucia is asked: “Are the secrets bad or good?” She pauses: “Bad for some, good for others.” That’s just a fact. This film truly communicates faith, communicates the reality of God, the eternal stakes—a difficult task for the screen. And perhaps we should learn to be afraid of what is true horror.

This is a completely different take on the apparition than “Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima.” “The 13th Day” is not trying to replace it or be a remake of it. When you buy the DVD, which will be released next month, make sure you watch it with your friends on a big screen. And pray a rosary afterward.

“The 13th Day” is available through Ignatius Press at or (866) 522-8465.