Indie genre films always seem to have to fight a little harder for respect than “straight” indie dramas or comedies. This seems born of a snobbish belief that independent filmmakers absolutely must use their voice to make films of “importance.” The implication goes that genres like horror, thrillers, sci-fi, and action are fundamentally disposable—not worthy of consideration by audiences who appreciate “true” cinema. This is obviously a ridiculous belief, but it has given genre films an underdog status in the indie field. This lack of general respect makes me root for them and overlook some flaws that I might judge more harshly in a standard navel-gazing indie drama. 7 BOXES is a perfect example of an entertaining piece of genre cinema that has rough patches I’m willing to ignore because of the panache with which the film is put together.
Victor (Celso Franco) is a poor teenager living in Asunción, Paraguay. He hustles a living as a delivery boy in the city’s sprawling, open-air market, hauling merchandise on a wheelbarrow. Victor is a dreamer, given to flights of fancy where he imagines a suave version of himself making out with beautiful women on television. Desperate to buy a cell phone capable of shooting video, he takes on a mystery job for Don Dario (Paletita), the shifty owner of a butcher shop who needs the titular boxes out of his shop before a police inspection. Told to take the boxes on a walk around the market until he is called to bring them back, Victor soon finds himself caught up in a crime he knows nothing about. As he ducks the police and finds himself on the run from Nelson (Victor Sosa, frightening with his pitiless glare), a rival deliveryman who believes the boxes contain $250,000, Victor’s routine delivery job turns into a nearly nonstop race to stay one step ahead of an increasing number of people who are willing to kill for the merchandise.
If a chase film with wheelbarrows sounds ridiculous to you, you’ll have to check that baggage at the door or you won’t be able to enjoy the film. But if you can get on the slightly absurd wavelength that co-writers/directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori (working with co-writer Tito Chamorro) create, there is a lot of fun to be had (along with some pointed shots at the price of poverty many Latin American countries are paying in the current global economy) following Victor.
Maneglia and Schembori get great mileage out of Franco’s performance. While not the most polished actor, he is endearing and has an expressive face that the directors take advantage of by shooting him in close-up for many of the chase sequences. Intercutting Victor’s reactions—sometimes hilarious, sometimes frightening—with frantic hand-held and steadicam shots of the maze of a market through which he is running, the film obtains a level of intensity that puts many big-budget action films to shame.
While Franco anchors the film with his scruffy charm, a constant rotation of entertaining supporting characters provide a lot of the humor and menace needed to keep the plot of the film running at its breathless pace. FromVictor’s loyal friend (and potential love interest) Liz (Lali Gonzalez), to his steely older sister Tamara (Nelly Davalos), to the increasingly psychotic Nelson, there is always someone intriguing—and more importantly, entertaining—to help or impede Victor. While some of these characters could be seen as contrivances to keep the plot moving forward, they are written with just enough humanity and played with such wit (particularly by Gonzalez and Davalos) that the film feels richer for their presence.
If the film falters at any point, it is with the inclusion of some unnecessary subplots and humor that is occasionally too broad. A storyline about Tamara helping her pregnant coworker can, at best, be considered tangential to the main plot. Meanwhile, a transvestite prostitute is brought in as comic relief for a couple of scenes, but the character is written and played so large, her presence is simply distracting.
These, however, are relatively small quibbles when talking about a film as purely entertaining as 7 BOXES. As a propulsive thriller with a welcome social and political conscience, it delivers the goods without ever becoming preachy. It’s a tricky tone to pull off, but Maneglia and Schembori maintain a sure hand throughout. It is receiving a very limited theatrical release. If you have the opportunity to catch it, it is well worth the price of admission. Support the underdog.
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