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In a nameless Puerto Rican seaside village, a young man named Leo (Lucas Quintana) laments with narration the tragedy that has besieged the town where a tsunami came ashore and swept away the school, taking away all 46 children. Ten years on, the people still mourn, living in dilapidated homes, wearing black, refusing to dance, sing, and worse, have more children. Drifting among these bereaved is Father Douglas (Martin Sheen), a devote man of religion who tries to salvage hope amid people who refuse to move on. When he proposes they rebuild the school as a first step, his church is vandalized.
Most of the young people have left, moving to the city, looking to rebuild their own lives away from the darkness of the village, though Leo has chosen to stay to look after his mother, who lost her youngest child in the schoolhouse and seems perpetually in shock. Being the first to make efforts though, she wears a pink dress, but is nonetheless, detached and nearly unable to care for herself. Leo remains a singular breath of life in a town unwilling to come up for air.
When a friend of Leo’s decides it’s time for him to leave, Leo offers his motorcycle as a means of escape, per se, and to celebrate, the young men take to drink. What follows is another tragedy but from it, something occurs that seems unexplainable, what the townspeople quickly call a miracle, though Father Douglas is careful not to interpret is as such, despite the resurgence of hope it instills. But there are also troubling consequences.
Written and directed by Julio Quintana, The Vessel is clearly influenced by the work of Terrence Malick (who serves as a producer), though far less ambiguous in its themes. With a lilting camera that settles long on its subjects, Quintana strives to tell a story seeped in its often arresting visuals, though does not shy away from heavy dialogue and bits of expositional narration. Leo is meant to be the titular messenger, and yet there is a sense we are meant to believe it rests within each of them, and Quintana does a good job giving these numerous characters depth. As the village seems to take steps towards its rebirth, there is the palpable sense that it has a terrible cost.
Leo comes to embrace a fragile acceptance to the divinity the town seems thrust upon him as he assembles a strange wooden structure that by its nature represents one thing and then another when it is turned. This leaves Father Douglas at an impasse as he must try and curb the people’s seeming need to put their faith in and on Leo rather than themselves.
Sheen is quite good as a man of passion desperately trying find plausible explanations for what is happening while retaining his faith not just in his religion but the power of healing these people vehemently need. He has great presence here (though fans of The West Wing might get sidetracked whenever he says Leo’s name), as do the rest of the cast, all of whom feel authentic in a world clearly built from metaphors.
The Vessel is an intriguing and encouraging debut for Quintana, who mostly handles the premise very well, though loses a bit of its momentum as it veers to an obvious end, which strips a few layers of reason away from the up-to-then intelligent approach. Nonetheless, this unconventional film is not preachy, nor does it reach too high with its message, instead giving the story great potential for its audience to challenge themselves. New on DVD, this is well worth a look.
Movie description: The Vessel is a 2016 drama about a small town devastated by a tsunami that has yet to move on ten years later
Director(s): Julio Quintana
Actor(s): Lucas Quintana, Martin Sheen, Jacqueline Duprey