13th Day (2009)

When I first popped in The 13th Day, Ignatius Press’s film about the Fatima apparitions, I was very skeptical. In my experience, modern Catholic films about saints and apparitions are usually weak – despite the good intentions of their creators, these films typically suffer from poor acting, thin plots and sub-par screenwriting. I was prepared for more of the same with The 13th Day. After viewing the film, I am not quite sure where to classify it, though I am sure that I liked it immensely.

The 13thDay is very unique among Catholic films. It does not at all fall into the same category as those poorly done Leonardo de Filippis historical dramas like Therese (which, as far as I can tell, was universally detested in the Catholic world). The directors of The 13th Day were going for something entirely different and, in my opinion, whether you like the film or dislike it, they certainly succeeded in setting it apart from other modern Catholic movies.

There is an interesting approach to the cinematography of the film. It seems the creators were trying to give the movie a classic feel by replicating the style and cinematography of the silent film era. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, but if you see the movie you’ll get what I’m talking about. The way the foreground interacts with the background, the intense chiaroscuro lighting with its dramatic shadow effect, and even the way in which individual frames are run together make you feel like you are watching something from the 1920’s. No doubt this was done intentionally, since the events depicted in the film happened between 1917 and 1920. Rather than try to create a one hundred percent realistic recreation of the events at the Cova in 1917, the film is content to recreate the mood of an early silent film in hopes of using this to give the atmosphere much more depth. It is a gamble, but one that paid off, in my opinion.

But please, do not mistake my comparisons to the films of the silent era as a judgment that the film is low budget or poor quality. Far from it. The scenery is amazing; if you watch the film, pay special attention to the prominent place the clouds and the sky play in each scene. The scenes when Mary appears are very well done; the transitions from the drab, black and white scenes to the glorious appearances of Our Lady are handled very well. The climax of the movie of course comes with the Miracle of the Sun in October, 1917. I cannot describe this depiction save to say that I think this was the best depiction of the miracle that I have ever seen or read. It was glorious, realistic but also otherworldly. I can’t describe it. Watch the film.

There is an interesting interplay between gray scale and color throughout the movie. The majority of the film is in black and white, which no doubt contributes to the nostalgic mood. But color is used sporadically throughout the movie to designate the action of heaven. For example, when Mary appears to the children, she is colorful and the children are bathed in colored light. The use of color throughout the film represents the actions of God’s grace. A convict in prison who is moved by watching the prayers of the children is suddenly flushed with color. An atheist government official witnessing the Miracle of the Sun through his office window is similarly lit up with color as grace penetrated his unbelief. I thought this was a very creative touch, identifying the grace of God with color. The transition from gray scale to color also has an element of “coming to life” about it that parallels the way grace brings a dead soul to life.

 

Acting is somewhat poor in the sense that it is very dramatic and overdone. “Bad” characters are perpetually scowling and bathed in shadow. The dialogue is a little unbelievable; characters say things that people really wouldn’t say in normal conversation. But then again, as mentioned above, once the directors decide that they are going to sacrifice realism for mood, this becomes part and parcel of that experiment. The evil character draped in shadow is reminiscent of the films of 1920’s and 1930’s when lines were meant to be delivered in a dramatic fashion and commitment to realism was not the norm. Characters say what needs to be said, deliver their lines with maximum emotion to make the point, and move on to the next scene. So, again, this is not really a weakness as much as a matter of taste. If you like this style, you’ll enjoy the acting.

 

I really have nothing bad to say about this movie. I was prepared for it to suck, but I was pleasantly surprised. Were it for the climax, I might have given the movie a 2.5. But the depiction of the Miracle of the Sun was so amazing, so moving and so well done that it pushes this movie to the top. I give The 13thDay my highest recommendation, three out of three tiaras.

 Review by Boniface