As the politics of illegal immigration saturates the news, it’s refreshing to see a film that focuses on illegal immigrants but never leans into politics for sympathy. American indie writer-director-producer Jim McKay, too long MIA from the big screen, returns with On the Seventh Day, a film that depicts the lives of a group of undocumented Mexicans busting their asses to make a living in Brooklyn. Using non-actors and an efficiently forward-moving storytelling technique the movie covers a week in the life of one of the men.
José (Fernando Cardona) lives with about eight other Mexican men in a brownstone unit, where some guys have to jockey for a space to sleep below a window. They’re all from Puebla and are part of an amateur soccer league where they represent their hometown. Playing in the league is one of the few joys for this hard-working group, who have all been separated from their families. Jose has a pregnant girlfriend back home, who he hopes to get over to the U.S. before she gives birth, so the child might have a better chance at an education and making a living as a U.S. citizen.
These characterizations come to light incidentally through action and situation. Stringing them together are two soccer matches. When we meet this group, it’s on the field, on a Sunday, where the relatively husky guys earn a spot in the finals, thanks to their star player: José. When he and a couple of mates report to work the following day at an upscale Mexican restaurant, the establishment’s owner, Steve (Christopher Gabriel Núñez) tells José he will have to work his usual day off: Sunday, the day of the finals. He also is told to inform his other friends/co-workers/teammates. However, dreading the reaction of the apparently hotheaded Jesús (Abel Perez), who would probably prefer to quit his job to play the game, José stays silent.
As the days pass, the tension of the film grows raw and real. Every day that opportunities pass where José postpones revealing his conundrum at work, the intensity of his decisions burrow deeper into the film’s drama. The little obstacles that appear are simultaneously frustrating and hilarious, yet they carry the gravity of the situation José finds himself as both friend and employee devoted to do right for the sake of his work. Steve, after all, has given him a hollow promise to help him get his papers to work legally in the U.S.
McKay has written an economical script which is buoyed by the quiet dignity of Cardona’s performance. There’s no musical composer of an incidental extra-diegetic score to push emotions. It’s all about the sounds of the city and the earthy performances of these non-actors. Sometimes the supporting performances are a bit wooden and self-aware, but these are momentary lapses that never detract from the film’s genuine quality. For those who have visited or lived in Brooklyn, DP Charles Libin beautifully captures the rawness of the neighborhood but never wallows in its grit. The film’s absorbing drama and charming atmosphere is revealed in transitional passages of action, featuring Jose zipping through the neighborhood on his bike, breaking the rules of the road, to make his deliveries, as well as in the humble performances of the soccer team on and off the field, where cheering is subdued by the casual interest of the fans of the sport who gather in the bleachers of Sunset Park. On the Seventh Day is a transporting film to a reality that carries warmth, sympathy and a dignified representation of humanity.
On the Seventh Day runs 92 minutes, is in Spanish, English and Mixtec with English and Spanish subtitles and is not rated. It opens in our South Florida area in the following counties and theaters:
- July 6: BROWARD: Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood
- PALM BEACH COUNTY: Lake Worth Playhouse
- July 13: MIAMI-DADE: Miami Beach Cinematheque and MDC’s Tower Theater Miami
For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link and look under “Playdates.” The Cinema Guild sent us an online screener for the purpose of this review.