J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, February 07, 2014

7 Boxes: Cart or Die, Dude

The wheelbarrow jockeys trolling for delivery work amid Asuncion, Paraguay’s giant open market have the sort of recklessness we would associate with New York bike messengers. The work is hard for carters, but it often brings them into uncomfortably close proximity with the criminal element. All kind of skullduggery is unleashed when a teen carter picks up an ominous load of “merchandise” in Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori’s 7 Boxes (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Victor is a carter, but in his daydreams, he is a TV celebrity waiting to be discovered. Usually, the hard-charging Nelson out hustles Victor for business, but not on this morning.  With Nelson running late because of his sick child, Victor is able to scoop up a lucrative job carting seven mysterious boxes.  It does not matter where. The dodgy kitchen worker just needs them “on street” until the heat blows over. Eventually, someone will call Victor on the cell phone they provided to arrange a rendezvous. At that time, he will receive the other half of a $100 bill. That’s American money, which is riding especially high in the exchange market.

Of course, Nelson is rather put out over losing the job. When he protests, he jumps to the wrong conclusions regarding the contents of the boxes. He assumes it is cash and enlists his violent carter cronies to waylay Victor. Soon everyone is after the punky kid. Meanwhile, in a subplot that will eventually be woven into the main thread, his older sister Tamara searches for the absentee father of her soon-to-deliver best friend, with the help of their Chinese restaurant boss’s smitten son.

When it comes to dodging and weaving in and out of traffic, 7 Boxes is aces.  The chase scenes are quite inventively staged and duly adrenaline charged. Yet, the film’s most intriguing relationship is the cautious attraction shared by Tamara and her admirer.  Indeed, it is one of the few films that take into account the under-examined phenomenon of Asian immigration to Latin America.

Nelly Davalos and Jin Hyuk Johnny Kim are terrific as Tamara and her maybe sort of suitor. Likewise, Lali Gonzalez brings an admirable energy level as Liz, Victor’s frienemy-possible love interest. The problem is every character is more appealing than the shallow and delusional Victor, most definitely including Victor Sosa’s Nelson, who is impressively ferocious, but also acutely human and ultimately quite tragic.

Fortunately, the strong sense of place and general scrappiness largely offset the film’s heavy handed class consciousness and shallow media criticism. When it is on the move, it works. Recommended for those who appreciate street level, bottom-of-the-criminal-food-chain exploits, 7 Boxes opens today (2/7) in New York at the Cinema Village.

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