In 1999, opera legend Andrea Bocelli sang at the Academy Awards with Celine Dion when their duet of “The Prayer” was up for a best song Oscar. Twenty-two years later, Bocelli has another shot at boosting a theme song to a nomination as “Gratia Plena,” which he recorded for the movie “Fatima,” enters the race. Composer Paolo Buonvino (“Medici: Masters of Florence”), who wrote the new song, will also contend for his “Fatima” score.
“Fatima” is directed by Marco Pontecorvo and stars Harvey Keitel and Sônia Braga alongside Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Visnjic and Lúcia Moniz.
Below, Bocelli and Buonvino speak exclusively with Variety about crafting the music of “Fatima” and the importance of the film’s message.
What was it like collaborating with Paolo Buonvino for the realization of the song “Gratia Plena”?
Bocelli: It has been a very interesting one. As soon as he composed “Gratia Plena,” he wanted me to hear it. It’s such a deep and inspiring song. It is so genuinely beautiful. Paolo is such a sensitive composer. It was such a joy for me to interpret his song. It’s a song that proposes a distinctive creative “calligraphy” which is very timely and expresses the universal Marian message with such strength and modernity.
Paolo, How did you get involved with composing the score?
Buonvino: It first started through Alessio Doglione, the editor. With Marco, we brainstormed both the subject matter and the deepness of this film. The story of Fatima is a renowned one, and we didn’t want to simply transcribe the historical events.
What fascinated me the most was the idea of narrating, through music, the purity of Lúcia, the little girl, and the way she looks at the world. For me, it was a great opportunity not to tell a hagiographical story, but to construct an intimate and spiritual narrative.
Where did the idea to reimagine “Ave Maria” come from?
Buonvino: It was a challenge. I looked at all the previous interpretations of the hymn, and I wanted to find my own personal interpretation of the song. I decided not to utilize the full lyrics of the prayer but to “musically” photograph snapshots of many different “Ave Marias” to unite the world in this joyous dance.
I researched 36 different translations of the song and then I ended up using 16 of them, including English, Japanese, Arab, Hebrew, Afrikaans and Rwandese.
Talk about the children you found around the world to record this.
Buonvino: We found the kids In Rome. The kids didn’t just sing in their own language, but they taught all of the other kids how to pray in their native language. I also learned a few words of the lyrics in different languages, and it felt like circling the world in two minutes and a half, the time of the song.
At what stage did Andrea come on board and how did you approach him to lead the song?
Bunovino: I composed “Gratia Plena” right after I completed the full soundtrack. The song sums up, musically, what the soundtrack already expressed. I thought that this joyous dance of prayers in different languages needed a sort of big brother, who could take the choir of kids by hand. We thought about Andrea Bocelli and his extraordinary artistic and human sensibility. When I played the song for him, he was thrilled, and he immediately got the originality of the musical concept. He immersed himself in the spiritual dimension we wanted to tell.
We instantly established a great connection and affinity. In this song, Andrea brings all his sensibility and talent inside the message of the song.
Andrea, how important is the message of both the song and the movie “Fátima”?
Bocelli: I think that this message is fundamental. This song (and the movie) celebrate brotherhood and tell a story that is not rationally comprehensible, but it’s a genuine one. It’s a sweet, edifying story for all of us, even for those who don’t have faith. Narrating the encounter of the three little shepherds with the Virgin, Fátima shows us how much beauty always lies in the good. It’s a universal parable of love, of great comfort, specifically during these times we are living, shaken by the sanitary uncertainties and social turbulences. The Catholic religion has destined a central role to the luminous female presence of the Holy Mary who intercedes for us. Personally, I find this peculiarity so beautiful and full of brightness.