2016, PG-13, 86 min. Directed by Julio Quintana. Starring Lucas Quintana, Martin Sheen, Jacqueline Duprey, Aris Mejias, Hiram Delgado, Jorge Luis Ramos, Marian Pabon, Leonardo Castro.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 16, 2016
They say the power of faith can achieve the impossible. In The Vessel, a small Latin American coastal village remains numbed by a horrible tragedy 10 years ago: An unanticipated tsunami devastated an elementary schoolhouse in broad daylight, leaving the town childless in the blink of an eye. The deadly wave has long receded, but the townspeople remain spiritually underwater, drowning in a perpetual sorrow. This is a place where God no longer lives, much to the frustration of the American priest (Sheen) who struggles to herd his flock back to the Church. But when a Christ-like villager named Leo (played by a quietly charismatic Lucas Quintana) becomes a walking miracle, the ravaged community finally finds something in which to believe. Like the crude nautical structure constructed from the remnants of the ruined classroom, Leo becomes the vessel that inspires others to likewise rise from the dead. He is their reluctant savior.
The influence of visionary (and sometimes polarizing) American filmmaker Terrence Malick, who serves as one of the film’s executive producers, is plainly evident. The serenely beautiful cinematography by Santiago Benet Mari; the objectified imagery (the wilted petals of a red rose, dampened books straddling a clothesline to dry); and the mystical overtones – all owe something to Malick. And yet, The Vessel squarely belongs to first-time director Julio Quintana, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s an impressive debut. Simple and yet elliptical, the film is a redemptive work that neither condescends nor patronizes, though the Catholic symbology (the stigmata!) can be a little too literal, a bit heavy-handed. (The film dangerously flirts with parody when Leo strenuously drags his makeshift boat towards the sea, as if he were carrying the cross toward Calvary.) But those are minor criticisms in the overall scheme of things. Interestingly, this little faith-based art film was shot in both English and Spanish, with the presumed objective to reach as broad an audience as possible. No matter the language, however, The Vessel speaks eloquently. It’s a testament to the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.