Welcome to the Larry411.com Guest Columnists! April 27, 2013
In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Friday, November 8, 2013 I attended the highly anticipated special screening of 7 Boxes at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The event was held at the elegant Sunrise Civic Center Theater in Sunrise, Florida. It was a selection in the World Cinema Features section.
7 Boxes (Paraguay and international title 7 cajas) is a gritty action thriller from filmmakers Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori that brings the rich sights and sounds of Latin America to life in a rare family-friendly flick without pulling punches. The entire narrative takes place over the course of several tense hours in the bustling and chaotic Mercado 4, a sprawling municipal market in Asunción, the capital and largest city in Paraguay.
As the film opens we see earnest 17-year-old Victor (Celso Franco), a wheelbarrow delivery boy, frozen in his tracks by the flickering images on a small television in an appliance store. “I’ll be on that screen someday,” he imagines. But work beckons, and in his desperate desire to earn enough to buy the latest and greatest cellphone, he accepts the potentially dangerous task of delivering seven mysterious boxes – containing he knows not what – from the butcher's warehouse to an undisclosed location. The money’s good (although he doesn't exactly know what $100 US will buy, it's more than he's ever seen), and the will to achieve his goals outweighs any risks involved. He is a teenager, after all, and invincible. But others covet his unknown parcels, and Victor finds himself simultaneously followed by several cadres of peculiar characters – placing both the completion of his job, and possibly his life, in jeopardy. And so the wild chase is on.
Co-directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori, whose production company made the picture, wore many hats on this project. Maneglia wrote the original story and screenplay in addition to serving as editor (with Juan Sebastián Zelada) and associate producer. Schémbori contributed to the script and was an Executive Producer. Maneglia and Schémbori have completed nine TV and movie productions together – 7 Boxes is the second feature they’ve directed. Tito Chamorro, who’s also worked with Maneglia and Schémbori before, collaborated on the script as well.
The visceral authenticity of 7 Boxes rests on the shoulders of charismatic lead Celso Franco, in his very first role. This newcomer is a young man with a bright future in cinema (he recently completed his second feature and is shooting a third at this writing). Amidst the virtually nonstop action is the cute, somewhat awkward relationship between our young protagonist and a female admirer (Liz, played by Lali Gonzalez) – one might almost consider her a fan, or even a stalker if she wasn’t appealing to the adolescent in him. Liz clings to Victor (or attempts to) as West Side Story’s Anybodys tried to blend in with the Jets, who begrudgingly accept her as a mascot because she’s too endearing to toss aside. This is the first feature for Gonzalez, as well, although she has an extensive theater background and some television and music video work. She’s also booked two films since 7 Boxes (the same projects as Franco). Both youngsters exude such confidence and a sense of optimism that their onscreen presence is simply electric. The couple's chemistry is undeniable and makes this as much a heartwarming coming of age film as the frenetic crime caper it appears to be.
The large ensemble cast of local residents turns in uniformly powerful performances, despite having little to no previous film work. Standouts including Victor Sosa as Nelson, Nico Garcia as Luis, Paletita as Don Dario, Manuel Portillo as Officer Servian, Mario Toñanez as Sergeant Osorio, and Nelly Davalos as Tamara. This is the first feature for most of the actors, who responded to open casting calls from the surrounding neighborhoods.
The creative team primarily consists of newcomers, as well. 7 Boxes is only the second feature for cinematographer Richard Careaga and the first for co-editor Juan Sebastián Zelada. The movie is shot almost exclusively with handheld, largely consisting of running tracking shots ahead of or behind the actors, punctuated by the occasional cleverly fixed camera angle from the bottom of a wheelbarrow. Filmed in tight 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the magnificent cinematography excels in POV shots when the viewer, as lens, is chasing or being chased. The audience, along with the boy, is in constant motion -- rarely does the camera stop.
The extensive market sequences use practical lighting, placing the audience into the dim, shadowy maze that is the essence of this urban culture. Dim yellowing light bulbs give the picture a warm palette of amber and gold, broken up only by the occasional cold interior shots relying on harsh fluorescents inside warehouses and meat lockers.
The heart pounding original score from composer Fran Villalba, working on his second feature as well, is appropriately relentless, with a pulsing beat befitting an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
I’m generally not a huge fan of films told in real time but the narrative here demands it, as the breathless drama unfolds over the course of one sweltering, frightening Friday night. The action is unrelenting. But 7 Boxes doesn't take itself too seriously, either, with just a touch of comic relief now and then to overcome the skepticism and help with the suspension of disbelief called for by a script filled with numerous unlikely coincidences. The picture is also a love letter to the vendors who make many Latin American cities so full of life. The rhythmic sounds – even the smells – of Mercado 4 seem to emerge from the screen and surround the viewer.
This is a cinematic introduction to a culture many of us haven't known, and characters with an innocence and vulnerability -- and ability to persevere -- that returns us to a time in our lives we yearn to bring back. 7 Boxes is an emotionally charged, passionately crafted little film that will leave you wanting more.
NOTE: I selected 7 Boxes as one of my Top 7 Foreign Language Narratives from the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. It debuted at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, launching a year-long string of circuit appearances including San Sebastian in Spain, Stockholm, and Argentina’s Mar del Plata Film Festival in 2012. Earlier this year it played Discovery Zone Film Festival Luxembourg and Festival du Film Policier de Beaune in France before arriving in the US to screen at Palm Springs, Miami, New York’s Havana, and Seattle International Film Festivals. It went on to the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in Japan, Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival just prior to its arrival in Fort Lauderdale.
It racked up numerous honors along the way. At its Toronto debut last year, 7 Boxes was nominated for the Discovery Award and the Discovery International Critics' Award (FIPRESCI). It won the Youth Jury Award at San Sebastián, was nominated for the New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize and won a New Voices/New Visions Special Jury Mention at Palm Springs, won Best Screenplay and was nominated for Best Film at Skip City, and won the World Competition Audience Award in Miami. It was nominated for Best Iberoamerican Film at the Goyas, Spain's equivalent to the Oscars.
The film was Executive Produced by María Victoria Ramírez Jou, along with Rocío Galiano, Camilo Guanes, and Tana Schémbori. Serving as Associate Producers were Carlos González Brun, Juan Carlos José Maneglia Niella, and Richard Careaga. 7 Boxes is a Maneglia-Schémbori Realizadores production, co-produced by Synchro Image and Nephilim Producciones. Los Angeles-based Shoreline Entertainment acquired worldwide sales rights. The film has distribution deals for several territories, including Synergy Cinema in France and Vértigo Films in Spain. Philadelphia’s Breaking Glass Pictures acquired the film for domestic distribution.
The official trailer (with English subtitles) is below along with a set of posters, stills, wallpapers, behind the scenes photos, and shots from festival appearances.
Official Site: 7cajas.com
Official Facebook: facebook.com/7cajas
Official Twitter: @7cajas
Official YouTube: youtube.com/7cajas
You need sign in to comment on entries on Larry411.
In my travels to the best film festivals in…