By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
What do we cling to when hope is beyond our grasp? How do we change in the midst of tragedy? Are there miracles in the ordinary?
These are some of the questions and mysteries explored in the simultaneously lush and sparse 86-minute film, “The Vessel,” created, produced, performed and engineered by the Quintana family of Sugar Land.
Starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by Julio Quintana, the first showing of the movie was nearly sold out Friday at the AMC First Colony 24 in Sugar Land. The audience included friends from St. Laurence Catholic Church where the Quintanas attended, alumni from the University of Houston where producer and wife of Julio, Marla Gomez Quintana, studied, and friends of engineer and boat designer Alex Quintana and lead actor Lucas Quintana who played “Leo” in the movie.
The movie opens with “Leo’s” voice saying how his mother always told him he would do something great. The film centers around a coastal island community 10 years after a daytime tsunami hits, killing all 46 children inside the school including Leo’s brother. The parents are left behind, surrounded by water and engulfed in grief, their anguish is palpable and under Julio’s’ direction he successfully allows their acting, silence and space to convey the pain.
Sheen plays the village priest, “Father Douglas,” who is questioned on why God has abandoned them. He doesn’t always answer their questions but instead makes more queries in this layered movie that, like an undertow, keeps pulling you in deeper with each scene.
We see the mothers who refuse to bear future children only wearing black. Leo’s mother is the one drop of color who wears pink, but never speaks. A young widow who sleeps with her husband’s books and inhales the pages to keep his memory alive. A community in paralysis.
Everything changes when the adult Leo and his best friend fall from a pier into the waters and drown and their bodies are recovered. His friend dies but three hours later Leo, covered in a shroud, emerges from the tomb-like structure where he and his friend lay.
There are multiple images likening him to a Jesus figure and an amusing scene with a nod to the story of a miracle achieved by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.
Julio calls the film “a love story” and indeed it is a movie that shows the resurrecting power of love in the midst of despair.
One audience member, after the film, thanked him for creating a film where one has time to breathe. Another asked what was his message during a pivotal moment involving the strange structure the “Leo” character built from the broken remains of the school.
Julio, a student of Academy Award winning executive director Terrence Malick, said he used his mentor’s style for his directorial debut. He said he prefers for the audience to impart their own message instead of spoon-feeding it to them, which the audience responded with applause. He added that the symbolism and layers were intentional.
The movie was shot in Spanish and English and the films will be shown in theaters at different times in those languages. Julio told how the actors were shy and nervous about working with Sheen until they were filming in Spanish and Sheen, who knows about 5 percent Spanish, was nervous said the director.
“Then you were hearing the actors encouraging Martin, ‘that’s good, that’s good. It will be OK,’” Julio said.
Watching the film was a special thrill for Andrea C. Acosta-Ribera, a University of Houston student who came with six classmates and a youth minister to support their alumni.
“I’m from Puerto Rico,” she shouted. “It was a pretty cool experience with it being a faith-based movie. It had a lot of emotion, but I didn’t cry,” she added.
Added Amanda Salmon, an officer with the schools’ Catholic Student organization, “That’s when you know you have a good movie, when you feel the emotions of the characters. This was good.”
The film is showing in 30 states and Puerto Rico and Marla said to keep the movie in theaters people have to come out to support the independent film.