If you’ve ever wondered what a Terrence Malick movie might look like if it were shot in Puerto Rico, we now officially have the answer. The Vessel is the debut feature from Texas helmer Julio Quintana, who actually wowed Malick so much with his spiritually-inclined screenplay that the director of The Tree of Life threw his weight behind the project as Executive Producer.
The Vessel tells the story of a Latin American seaside community stricken by tragedy when a tsunami takes the lives of the town’s schoolchildren. Years later, as members of the community continue to process the events, one survivor uses the wreckage of the fallen schoolhouse to build a mysterious structure that captivates the townspeople.
In true Malickian style, the whole thing plays out as a crisis of faith and spiritual doubt, centered around a Catholic priest played by Martin Sheen who is left to help the townspeople make sense out of a seemingly senseless tragedy. The trailer gives us a look at how Quintana translates these themes into the film’s transcendental visual style, which is more than a little reminiscent of El Chivo’s camerawork on The Tree of Life.
It also happens that Quintana shot The Tree of Life’s behind-the-scenes documentary before working as a visual consultant on Malick and El Chivo’s next collaboration, To the Wonder – so the parallels are more than just incidental. To boot, Sheen collaborated with Malick as a young man on his own debut film Badlands and read the screenplay for The Vessel after getting a tip from Malick.
In addition to Sheen, Quintana’s use of a primarily Puerto Rican cast – including starring turns from Lucas Quintana, Aris Mejías, and Jacqueline Duprey – also allowed the first-time director to experiment with an age old Hollywood technique: shooting the same scenes in English and Spanish for alternate-language versions of the film. It worked for decades in the golden days of Tinseltown until dubbing became standard practice, but for The Vessel’s bilingual actors it seemed a natural fit. Check out the Spanish-language trailer below for comparison.
‘The Vessel’ premieres in New York, Los Angeles and select theaters nationwide on September 16th.