“Not everything unexplainable is necessarily transcendent,” insists Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel), an atheist doing research for his latest book. “I can only give you my testimony,” replies Sônia Braga’s Sister Lúcia. Marco Pontecorvo’s gentle historical drama takes the real-life Portuguese nun’s account of the Miracle of the Sun in 1917 as its inspiration. Against the backdrop of the first world war, he focuses on the perspectives of 10-year-old Lúcia dos Santos (Stephanie Gil) and her younger cousins Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) and Jacinta (Alejandra Howard), who claim they have been visited by the “Angel of Peace” (Joana Ribeiro) in their hometown of Fátima. Lúcia is treated with scepticism by those around her, including her mother, Maria (Lúcia Moniz), and the town’s secular mayor (Goran Visnjic).
Most of the film takes place in sepia-tinged flashback, which creates an atmosphere of dour sobriety instead of evoking any sort of divine radiance. Pontecorvo seems particularly interested in conveying the gravitas of Lúcia’s spiritual burden, which is anchored by Gil, who is full of quiet intensity and impressive conviction.