7 cajas (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The job sounds simple: To guard seven sealed boxes and deliver them to Mr. Dario (Paletita), a man with spectacles and who is likely involved in something beyond the meat business. If all the merchandise arrive safely, Victor (Celso Franco) would receive one hundred dollars—more than enough to cover the cell phone with a video camera that he so desperately wishes to have. But the Paraguayan marketplace of the country’s capital is a treacherous environment. Soon, fellow delivery boys, cops, and thugs are out looking for Victor and many are willing to cross the line to get richer by sunrise.
Directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori, “7 cajas” brims with creativity, humor, color, and thrills that it becomes easy to overlook the simplicity of the premise. Right from the beginning, we are placed into the life of our wheelbarrow-pushing protagonist and the screenplay does not lose momentum until the camera, in its last shot, fixes its lens on Victor’s exhausted and injured face. It is a complete picture. And that makes it a rarity.
What impressed me most is the level of detail of the marketplace. I have not been to the specific outdoor market where the film was shot, but I have been to others like it. While growing up in the Philippines, my mother, brother, and I would go to the market just about every weekend to buy goods—from fresh fish, meat, and vegetables to local spices, knickknacks, and school supplies—and there are three things I will never forget: the buzzing of the crowd, the stench of the products and hardworking people, and the heat that envelops every square inch of the outdoors. Based on personal experience, this film gets those details exactly right and it is a joy to see a version of my memories of childhood being represented on screen.
The picture is very fluid in crossing genres. For example, the suspenseful chase sequences are usually followed by a friendly argument between Victor and Liz (Lali Gonzalez), the former condemning the latter for being stupid, but Liz always manages to prove to Victor that she is very smart when it really counts. The camaraderie between the performers are believable and it becomes apparent to us almost immediately that the characters have known each other for years. The breaks between thrills give us a chance to mentally reset and recharge until the camera adopts swift motions and various acrobatics once again.
The directors have a knack for revealing horrific images and so I am interested to see how they shape a horror film. In any case, Maneglia and Schembori appear to know the subtle disparities between build-up and tension. The similarities are utilized to form a familiar template and the differences are used to defy what we come to expect of a particular scene. This is best exemplified in the scene where Tamara (Nelly Davalos), Victor’s sister, visits a building with a homeless man sleeping outside.
“7 Boxes” is a movie to be cherished, one that deserves to be seen again and again. But not for reasons that you might think. No, it does not command the twists, turns, and multiple meanings of works like Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” or Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder.” It asks for a different set of eyes. Instead of putting the focus on fantastic elements, it gives us a chance to appreciate real lives and places—even if they look grimy or dirty. We need and should demand for more movies like this.