7 Boxes: Toronto Review
Directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori's debut feature follows a guide who has to guard seven mysterious, sealed boxes with his life.
TORONTO — A slum-set crime story that's mostly happy to play life-and-death danger for streetwise kicks instead of serious scares, 7 Boxes makes excellent use of a setting unknown to most American viewers. Directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori look likely to leap from long-running success in Paraguay to global recognition, and arthouse appeal in the States is strong.
Wide-eyed and enthusiastic, Celso Franco is a fine guide through Asunción's jam-packed urban market, a bustling maze where electronics and produce are sold side by side. Working as a freelance porter, Franco's Victor hustles his wheelbarrow through crowds, offering to carry shoppers' loads for a fee; his rivalry with fellow barrow-pusher Nelson (Víctor Sosa Traverzi) is less than friendly.
When Nelson misses a pickup for a regular client, Victor winds up with the assignment: Wheeling seven mysterious, sealed boxes out of a butcher's shop, guarding them with his life while police search the place, and waiting for the call to return them. His pay will be $100 -- big money in local guaraníes -- though rumors soon circulate that his cargo is actually US$250,000 in cash.
Predictably, Victor's soon on the run not just from cops but Nelson's hastily recruited gang. What's not predictable is how the movie uses the market's network of loose social connections, which echo its tangled maze of pathways and backdoor escape routes, to keep this story zipping along. Victor gets both assistance and grief from Liz (Lali González), a tomboy whose potential as a romantic interest is withheld until late in the picture; he uses a beat cop's lust for one of his buddies to his advantage; he winds up owing his life to his sister (Nelly Dávalos), who spends most of the film embroiled in a drama she doesn't realize is linked to his.
Coincidences pushing the narrative along feel completely uncontrived, like the natural result of the way life and commerce work in these tight quarters; when we eventually grasp the macabre nature of the plot entangling Victor, the filmmakers manage to get us rooting simultaneously for him to evade and be saved by the police. After all, Nelson's gang proves a good deal more ruthless than one would expect wheelbarrow-pushers to be: Bystanders get killed with a harshness only explained by the extreme riches at stake, and while we're never exactly convinced Victor might catch a bullet himself, the guys back at the butcher shop look capable of all sorts of non-lethal nastiness. Maneglia and Schémbori attach their camera to a variety of moving objects, successfully capturing the energy with which Victor flees a grisly fate.
Production Company: Maneglia Schémbori Realizadores
Cast: Celso Franco, Víctor Sosa, Lali González, Nico García, Paletita, Manuel Portillo
Directors: Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schémbori
Screenwriter: Juan Carlos Manegli
Executive producers: María Victoria Ramírez Jou, Rocío Galiano, Camilo Guanes, Tana Schémbori
Director of photography: Richard Careaga
Production designer: Carlo Spatuzza
Music: Fran Villalba
Editor: Juan Sebastián Zelada, Juan Carlos Maneglia
Sales: Shoreline Entertainment
No rating, 100 minutes.