The Ves­sel

THE VES­SEL, re­li­gious drama, rated PG-13, sep­a­rate screenings in English and Span­ish with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

Julio Quin­tana’s somber re­flec­tion on life, death, love, and faith is set in a tiny Puerto Ri­can fish­ing vil­lage. The story un­folds 10 years af­ter an event that dev­as­tated the com­mu­nity and de­stroyed its faith in God: A tidal wave hit the vil­lage school, drown­ing all the chil­dren and the school­mas­ter.

It’s the sort of dis­as­ter from which re­cov­ery seems im­pos­si­ble, and this lit­tle coastal town has not re­cov­ered. The young peo­ple have mostly left. The dis­traught fam­i­lies refuse to have more chil­dren, de­spite urg­ing from the vil­lage priest, Fa­ther Dou­glas (Martin Sheen), who be­lieves that re­pro­duc­tion is the only course that can start the com­mu­nity on the road back. The vil­lagers have stopped go­ing to church. They all wear black.

The film is nar­rated by a young man named Leo (Lu­cas Quin­tana, the di­rec­tor’s kid brother), whose brother was one of those lost in the wave. Leo wasn’t in school that day, so he sur­vived. He takes care of his mother Fidelia ( Jacqueline Duprey), who has not spo­ken since that day, and who may feel that the wrong son was lost.

One night Leo and his friend Gabriel (Hi­ram Del­gado) get drunk, and they slip off the sea­wall and are drowned. Gabriel stays dead, but Leo makes a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery. Is it a sign from God? That’s the talk around town. Fa­ther Dou­glas is at first in­clined to shoot down such su­per­sti­tious flights, but as peo­ple begin to re­turn to the church, he thinks bet­ter of it.

Leo re­acts to his res­ur­rec­tion un­ex­pect­edly, by build­ing a strange pitched-roofed struc­ture from the de­bris of the former school­house. Is it a church? Turn it over, like in­vert­ing a hat made of news­pa­per, and it be­comes a boat. And in this ves­sel Leo pro­poses to set out to sea, as a kind of test of faith.

There are a lot of tur­bu­lent strains swirling around the vil­lage and the char­ac­ters who in­habit it. The lat­ter in­clude the lovely So­raya (Aris Me­jias), whom Leo has loved since they were chil­dren. He lost her to an­other man be­cause he could never work up the courage to de­clare his feel­ings. Now she’s a widow, and he’s find­ing his nerve. So­raya even breaks with the vil­lage’s code of mourn­ing and puts on a col­or­ful dress.

Quin­tana’s movie, which was filmed in both Span­ish and English, was co-pro­duced by Ter­rence Mal­ick, and it is filled with spec­tac­u­lar vi­su­als and tur­bu­lent spir­i­tual themes that are clearly in­flu­enced by the mas­ter. Leo’s nar­ra­tion, in which some of th­ese ideas are ex­pressed, is de­liv­ered in a mum­bled mono­tone that isn’t al­ways easy to fol­low. De­spite its heart­felt con­vic­tion, The Ves­sel feels only par­tially formed, a wel­ter of ideas strug­gling to mas­ter the cin­e­matic lan­guage it needs to ex­press it­self.

Fa­ther fig­ure: Martin Sheen

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