Critically acclaimed thriller The Boat premiered in Malta last night, and boy did it measure up with the hype that’s been surrounding it. Local actor Joe Azzopardi held the attention of the local audience for exactly 100 minutes, not an easy feat to accomplish, in a film that will definitely be talked about for years to come.
We’ve been talking about Malta-made thriller The Boat for months now, when we first heard of the short film ‘Head‘ that Maltese producer and filmmaker Winston Azzopardi was working on. Fast forward several months, a couple of international premieres, and even a UK National Film Awards nomination; The Boat finally made its Malta premiere last night to a packed cinema full of critics, fans, friends, influencers and industry experts.
Before the film started, director Winston Azzopardi gave a quick address to the audience
And he had one request for us, that earned a few giggles from the audience; “please do not munch on your popcorn during the movie, this is a silent film for the most part“. A request that my misophonic ears were glad to hear.
“There are three characters in this film: the sailor (who I unfortunately happen to be related to), the boat, and the sound.”
With that, the film began. And I am sorry to say that people did not restrain from munching on their popcorn and nachos, so that was unfortunate. But the popcorn was tasty.
Not a word, either from actor Joe Azzopardi or the anxious audience, was uttered for the first five minutes of the film. With the idyllic view of Gozo’s coastline over at the inland sea by Dwejra, we’re immediately transported into the Mediterranean world of boating and fishing, as the Sailor makes his way out to sea on a tiny electric dinghy.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to chuck any spoilers your way. The Boat’s trailer pretty much says everything you need to know about it, and if you haven’t watched the trailer yet, here you go.
In short; a young sailor ventures out to sea on his little fishing boat, when he comes across a seemingly abandoned sailing boat.
Curious, he boards the boat to check it out, tying his dinghy to the side while he explores. After attempting to report the abandoned vessel to the Valletta port control, he makes his way back: only to realise his dinghy has disappeared and he’s stranded.
And thus, the Sailor has to try and make his way back to land on an abandoned vessel with broken navigation system.
From the way he was handling the sailing boat, you’d believe this was truly Joe Azzopardi’s area of expertise
Of course, that is the beauty of acting, albeit paired with the fact that boating is what father and director Winston claimed ‘they know best’.
But the ability to handle a sail and a winch is not nearly the start of the young actor’s ability.
Joe was, for the most part, acting on his own for the duration of the film with only one of the other two ‘characters’ present for filming; the boat. And the power of the boat was largely brought to life in collaboration with the third character, the sound design, which was added in post production.
“A big part of acting is very often the ability to react to what your scene partner is offering you,” Joe said “And I didn’t have that.”
Joe also had another major restriction in his performance.
The instruments of the actor are his/her body and voice; and in total there must have only been about 30 seconds of speech in the whole film. This meant that Joe had to rely very heavily on his physicality and facial expressions to convey the Sailor’s emotions.
Despite not knowing very much about the character – his name, his age, his backstory are all unknown – audience sympathise with the Sailor and find that they very quickly form an emotional attachment to the young man.
We root for him, because we don’t want to be him.
The situation he has found himself is so unimaginable to us, but we are right there on the boat with him for the whole time, so we sit on the edge of our seats for the entire film, hoping to see him come out of it alive.
The isolation and desperation that Joe portrays throughout the film is almost palpable, as the strength of his ability shines through in even the smallest of sighs and movements of the hand. This is especially brought out through the incredible cinematography that very much makes you feel like you are trapped in that tiny bathroom with him. This then in contrast with scenes of the expansive Mediterranean ocean that remind you just how alone he is out there.
The soundscape, including music by Lachlan Anderson, brings the Boat to life
With minuscule sounds being picked up, like creaky floor boards and ragged breathing, balanced against the almost Zimmer-like soundtrack. The audience is subconsciously told when to start feeling tense before the action even begins. We’re almost aware that a storms about to hit before we even see it: the sound is pushing the narrative along, almost like a non-verbal narrator.
Audience members at the premiere were treated to a Q&A session with both Winston and Joe Azzopardi following the film
While we got to know a bit more about the team’s process behind the scenes, we were all still left with one unanswered question; what was the Boat?
An entity? Was it being controlled by some mad man? The answer to this question was very cleverly delivered by Joe; “you decide”.
And therein lies the power of The Boat. A thrilling film full of suspense and action, left to the interpretation of anyone watching it. We could spend hours debating the meaning of the film, but the reality is that the meaning is much larger than the answer to a simple question. The power of the film lies in the strong visuals and powerful soundtrack that leave you wanting more once it is over.
The Boat is showing exclusively at Eden Cinemas until the 5th of March.