Movie Review: The 13th Day

In The 13th Day, the timely message of Fatima has been retold for a new generation. Directors Ian and Dominic Higgin, accomplished more than a pious revival of a fond moment in Catholic history, they re-cast familiar images of a story whose relevance has grown with time. Told from the perspective of Sister Lucia dos Santos who is writing her memoirs in her Spanish convent in 1932, the film emphasizes her emotional turmoil, which ensued when she had a heavenly visitor in 1917, and the personal cost of being Our Lady’s messenger. The term 13th Day refers to the series of six apparitions of Our Lady, beginning on May 13, 1917, on the thirteenth day of each month, ending on October 13, 1917 with the miracle of the sun visible to over 80,000 people, according to newspaper articles.

The Higgins brothers’ background in photography, as evidenced by their use of the Chiaroscuro technique, in which faces emerge from darkness into light, emphasizes the theme of light that is central to The 13th Day. Characters’ faces emerge from shadowed darkness, to black and white, to muted color and, as they respond to the heavenly messenger, are portrayed in blinding light. This technique may not appeal to those who prefer a traditional portrayal of this story, yet it has a haunting quality, achieving an arresting emotional impact. Interestingly, not only are Our Lady and the children flooded with light and color, but those who come to accept the apparitions also take on a tinge of color. Clearly, this technique evokes the phenomenon of rainbow light that washed over the eyewitnesses in Fatima on the 13th of August 1917

The portrayal of Our Lady is breathtaking, and there is a stunning ‘holy card moment’ pausing to show the traditional portrait of the three children kneeling at her feet at the base of the shrub oak. The high point of the film is the miracle of the sun, showing the brilliance of its colors, its wildly erratic movement, and its menacing plunge towards earth, terrifying tens of thousands of witnesses. The film captures this with intense realism, focusing on the intensity of terror and joy felt by the witnesses. The 13th Day shows in passing the Third Secret of Fatima, where a man in white papal garments ascends a hill amidst the devastation of famine and war towards a cross where he is shot.

The musical score is lush, adding tenderness to the rare moments of innocent joy in what is a somewhat unsettling film. Hints of Allegri’s “Misere” add a touch of transcendence to the emotional soundtrack, and it is one of the best features of the film.

The young Portuguese actors who play Lucia and Francisco convey a mixture of simplicity and emotional strength for their roles as innocent souls entrusted by Our Lady with the most critical and terrifying of secrets. Jacinta is seen for the innocent six year old she was and has a minor role.

The vivid visions of hell and trials endured by the children are harsh for younger viewers, though profoundly important to the story. One forgets that the Fatima children accepted suffering for the sake of sinners, and the filmmakers remind us that Lucia and her cousins were immediately put to the test with their family members. Children dealing with broken families and schoolyard violence might welcome a film which shows children who see through the darkness into the light of heaven. In fact, all children raised in today’s godless public square would benefit from the message, which calls them to lift up their eyes to heaven where a loving Mother awaits their prayers. Two generations of Catholics, who have been raised on ‘Catholic lite’ CCD programs, need a wake-up call on what it means to be the Church Militant. In the face of a darkening world landscape, The 13th Day is just that.

The 13th Day reminds viewers not only of the message of Fatima, but of the price paid by the young visionaries so honored by Our Lady, and draws striking parallels between hostile governments and media of 1917 and persecution of the Church in our own time. It is a somber film for a sobering message. Recommended for age 8 and up. No language or nudity, but scenes of hell and children being persecuted may be disturbing for younger viewers.

Highly recommended.


Mother to three daughters and a Literature instructor, Leticia has always loved writing, good literature, and classic films. She became a blogger in 2006, and began to include film reviews on her blogs, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, and Cause of Our Joy Suddenly Leticia was thrust into the world of film criticism when Eric Sheske of the National Catholic Register mentioned her blog as a source for Catholic film reviews. The next day, an invitation arrived to attend a film premiere in Hollywood, which she accepted, and a film critic was born. Leticia began Catholic Media Review to guide parents in their decisions on whether to let their children see a particular film. She also promotes independent family films like “Bella”, and “Fireproof” so that they can reach a larger audience. Her goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture to what Pope John Paul II called a “Culture of Life”. She realizes that the pivotal role the media has to play in this transformation, and is determined that those who would defame Christ’s message do not have the last word. She writes film and book reviews for the following publications: MercatorNet, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online, and “National Catholic Register”. Her reviews have been posted at the websites of Reuters, IMBD, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, and various TV news stations.

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