7 BOXES is a film full of piquant revelations. Steeped in the seamy underbelly of Paraguay urban culture, it is a suspenseful noir with absurdist overtones sharply defined by filmmakers Tana Schembori and Juan Carlos Meneglia. Wonderfully original and wildly unpredictable, it will make more than one viewer ask why there arent more films from Paraguay making it into North American cinemas.
Schembori and Meneglia firmly set the action in a milieu where the have-nots are confronted at every turn by the haves. Its a society where people exploit or are exploited, cheat or are cheated, and in the middle of this is Victor (Celso Franco), a plucky teenage porter of other peoples goods plying his trade in a crowded outdoor market in the sketchier part of Asuncion. Victors problem is that he is not quite as ruthless as his fellows. He is also obsessed with the good life he sees on the televisions in shop windows, imagining himself in heroic and/or posh situations while losing jobs. Fate conspires to help Victor, or so it seems, when he has a chance to buy a snazzy used cell phone with a video recorder, and a special job comes up that will give him the cash to seal the deal.
The job is the eponymous seven boxes, the which he must take for a spin around the market and away from the prying eyes of the police. It sounds simple, but of course its not, and the fact that the pay is 100 dollars American should make Victor suspicious, but visions of cell phone videos cloud his judgment. In short order, Victor is targeted by thugs, police, and fellow porters, each with their own reasons for wanting the boxes, forcing the boy to think fast to stay alive long enough to claim his phone.
The city of Asuncion, or at least the poor part of town, is the real star of the film, as the denizens of this one section orbit each other tangentially until events bring them together in unexpected ways. The overwhelming poverty is omnipresent, from Victors clever girlfriend, Liz (Lali Gonzales), complaining of hunger as they walked through a thriving produce market, the Victors nemesis, Nelson (Victor Sosa) staring down the pharmacy clerk who refuses to give him the medicine on credit for his desperately ill son. The dark scowl that gives even the hardened clerk pause dissolves into angry despair as Nelson succumbs to the situation. In that one scene more than any other, is writ large the societal ills of more than just Paraguay, yet while it informs the rest of the action, it is not directly addressed again. It doesnt need to be. The point is made. Instead, incompetent kidnappers dig themselves in deeper, love blossoms out of adversity, police bumble on the edge of corruption, and every decision, no matter how seemingly trivial, carries with it life or death consequences.
7 BOXES is a comedy thriller with dark and deeply troubling flourishes that keep the film from ever falling into glibness or cliché. Slickly directed with a whipsmart instinct for maximum visual and emotional impact, its a film to see before Hollywood buys the remake rights.
Stunning film. All above true plus plus.