Directors of a certain auteurist stripe serving as producers for up-and-comers and protégés can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they may over-exert their influence and end up railroading the intentions of their mentee. A younger, less experienced director, when faced with working under the tutelage of their idol, could let their own intentions and art be subsumed by the vision of their elder. If the two collaborators are on the same level visually and existentially, though, then the fusion of established name with emergent talent can be something sublime and beautiful.
The Vessel, blessedly, fits into this latter category. Directed and written by Julio Quintana and produced by Terrence Malick, it is the rare film in which the guiding hand of the artist-as-producer feels not overbearing or dominant, but rather paternal and knowing. It is obvious that this is entirely Quintana’s movie, his vision and his spirit, and that Malick’s influence was motivated out of harmony with that vision, rather than out of a desire to direct it in his own way.
Observing the priest, and the town as a whole, with philosophical and romantic remove, is Leo (Lucas Quintana). With a mother in a state of perpetual shock and a brother lost to the wave, Leo does not lack for reasons to despair with the rest of the town, though he is more well-adjusted than the rest. Portrayed with wounded, empathetic fatigue by Quintana, Leo becomes the platonic ideal of a mournful protagonist. He feels acutely the sadness around him, and observes it unflinchingly, but he is not morose and consumed by it. Instead, when a friend decides to move to the city, he fixes his motorbike to aid in the journey.
How the film progresses and how the plot unfolds is a divine and spiritual pleasure. While Quintana and his cinematographer Santiago Benet Mari have obvious taken Malick’s influence in terms of style and aesthetic, he has not adopted his producer’s sense of narrative ethereality. The characters in The Vessel have arcs, conversations and relationships fleshed out through dialogue and real moments together. Despite the camera floating, swinging, taking in naturally lit environments and lingering on especially painterly compositions, the film takes time for true narrative beats. That these beats ask and explore questions related to grief, healing, and religious purpose is an indulgent intellectual treat.