Celso Franco in '7 Boxes'
Celso Franco in '7 Boxes'

There is always a restless curiosity that comes from watching a film from a place foreign to one’s intellectual experience. This is not only referring to the geographical separation or even the cultural differences. A person could never set foot in Japan in their entire life and still be a loyal fan of Japanese cinema. Through film he creates a preconceived idea of what that society is like or what subjects its filmmakers are interested in. It is likely that due to the lack of this previous familiarity, watching a film from the South American country of Paraguay is such a fascinating revelation full of possibilities. There are no expectations or much material to compare it with in terms of it national identity, only the thematic or genre elements can resemble anything known.

In Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémborithe’s intense Paraguayan thriller 7 Boxes what stands out as the most striking quality is the filmmakers’ sense of time and their ability to use their primary location as an incredible asset. Inherently street-smart teenager Victor (Celso Franco) makes a living wheelbarrowing shopper’s groceries or merchants produce around one of the city’s major swap meets. It’s a rough and competitive world where criminal organizations and corruption reign. Not unlike other youngsters his age to whom technology is highly attractive, Victor wants to get his hands on a shinny new cell phone with video-recording capabilities. His interest with moving images on a screen is highlighted at various points in the story. But those devices are pricy and not widely available, if he wants one he must find a way to obtain the extra funds.

By being at the right- or perhaps wrong- place at the precise time, Victor manages to sneak in a job that was originally meant for his wheelbarrowing rival Nelson (Víctor Sosa), a desperate man in his 20s who needs the money to buy medicine for his son. What Victor’s new mission entails is to carry around 7 boxes with undisclosed contents for a few hours until he receives a call to bring them back to the local meat market, he is given a ripped half of a $100 bill, and is told he will receive the other half upon the completion of his journey. Taking place over the course of one single day, and with the action mostly contained in the swap meet, the kid’s decision to get involved with these untrustworthy individuals unravels a series of terribly violent circumstances.

7 Boxes

Victor’s candid young friend/love interest Liz (Lali Gonzalez), will be his only ally in a cat-and-mouse game that includes the neighborhood thugs, a gang of wheelbarrowers, the son of a Chinese restaurant owner, and his own sister. Added to this the authorities are yet another group of predators who will try to solve the crime while simultaneously aiming to benefit financially from the situation. With all the odds against him Victor will have to prove he is astute enough to survive in such vicious urban jungle.

Intense and intelligently written the film is a revelation that utilizes high-speed chases and great editing to create increasingly higher stakes for its characters. Thrillers like this could easily fall into a repetitive pattern of well-known plot antics that add to nothing but clichés. This is not the case. The filmmakers chose to reveal the boxes’ contents early on in the film making it not simply a quest in search of the payoff from a final revelation, but instead a film about all the stories that collide via their shared desperation. On the other hand, although effective in creating a disorienting and intriguing mood, its visual style that mixes a fast-paced unique POV with more conventional cinematography feels disjointed because of the sharp differences. Another unclear element is the inclusion of vividly ethereal music. Despite being interesting and evocative, this choice seems rather unfitting at times, its existence only appears to be coherent during the final sequence.

There are definitely too many subplots and creative twists to discuss without revealing too much, still, 7 Boxes is a promising example of using tested genre elements and adapting them into a new context to create an engaging piece. It certainly will leave audiences wondering what other stories will come out from the talented minds of these, and future Paraguayan directors.