MOVIE REVIEW: En el Séptimo Día
EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA — 4 STARS
No matter the color of their proverbial collar or their country of origin, most every contributing member of society works hard to earn a living. In this country, we bundle that goal as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All working folks need a respite to recharge.
LESSON #1: THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL HOBBIES AND INTERESTS — An outlet, be it physical, intellectual, social, or any combination of those, in life is essential. That chosen activity needs fulfilling enough to promote the verb form of that word “living.” Without something to enrich a livelihood, the accumulated toil can drown an individual.
Symbolically titled and translated to mirror the Biblical day of rest, Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día presents a little-seen and marginalized sector of our American melting pot, namely undocumented Mexican immigrants. His outstanding film gives them a vibrant voice and stirring course to seek that bundled American goal. Their chosen outlet activity is simply the sport of soccer. En el Séptimo Día opens today for a one-week Chicago run exclusively at the Gene Siskel Film Center. McKay himself will be in attendance at select Friday and Saturday screenings for post-film discussions.
LESSON #2: THE KINSHIP OF TEAM SPORTS — The dramatized setting of this film is the New York burrough of Brooklyn during the summer of 2016. The Team Puebla soccer squad is comprised of delivery drivers, dishwashers, janitors, and other men maintaining less-than-desirable professions. Most of them pool their money and share beds, couches, and floors within their limited living spaces. When these men put on their cleats and numbered red-and-gray jerseys to take to the fenced turf in Sunset Park, their heavy mundane and tedious burdens go away. Unity, hope, smiles, playful spirit, determination, and, most of all, a chance to accomplish something rewarding all emerge.
On the foot of Jose (Fernando Cardona), their best player, Team Puebla has valiantly triumphed in their semifinal tournament match to advance to the championship match. The final game arrives next Sunday, and McKay’s chapter cards take us through each day of the week leading up to the big game. Anticipation and preparation are stifled when injuries and potential absences hurt the team roster numbers and their competitive chances. The most dire obstacle lands on Jose when his upscale restaurateur boss (Christopher Gabriel Núñez) informs him that he is needed and required to work the coming Sunday for a high-end event. Jose’s been putting long hours and focus into this job with the promises of earning official working papers and the advancement of moving from delivering meals on a bike to a better job in the front of house.
In addition to the sustained career potential, Jose has been saving his earned salary to bring his pregnant girlfriend north over the border to join him in New York. All of that upward progress and potential would be lost over what plenty of people are telling him is a meaningless soccer game, no matter how much he wants to win. The man creates a hefty dilemma when he can’t bring himself to inform his teammates and must figure out the right decision to make.
LESSON #3: WHAT WOULD YOU DO? — Even though your work profession or situation may not match Jose’s, you cannot help but ask yourself this basic question of choice. Would you work? Would you quit? How would you finagle these circumstances of uncertainty?
Such a plot description sounds like the makings of an emotional rah-rah sports movie complete with all the theatrical trimmings. The beauty of En el Séptimo Día is its grounded sense of realism to ignore all of that temptation for artificial luster. Not a glorifying or manipulative sports movie trope is in sight in McKay’s film. The people and the stakes achieve the rousing moments of enthusiasm all on their own genuine merit.
Through every establishing shot and scene transition watching Cardona pedel his way from one responsibility to the next before each daily sunset, solid camera work from operator and cinematographer Charles Libin (Remote Control) dives into this blended socioeconomic community. The urban settings are undoctored and the film has no underlying musical score. The cast, including Cardona’s Jose who rarely ever leaves the center of the screen, are mostly amateur first-time actors. Every stitch, scuff, and bead of sweat in between presents an entirely natural realism.
If you didn’t know it, you would think this film is a slice-of-life documentary, giving the film similar striking authenticity and power as Chloe Zhao’s celebrated spring film The Rider. En el Séptimo Día presents an empathetic and beautifully rendered microcosm of the American Dream. Between the recent World Cup and our country’s ever-present immigration debate, a tender and compassionate allegory such as this could not be more soothing cinematic balm and satisfying experience.
LESSON #4: SMALL SUCCESSES ARE A BIG DEAL — This final life lesson speaks to the narrative arc on the inside and the film itself on the outside with glowing regard. Both represent accomplishments from seemingly inconsequential places for momentary victories. That is how they appear to the outside observer. However, to the invested characters and filmmakers involved, a story and film like En el Séptimo Día means the world as a labor of love and chance to bask in deserved glory.