Cinema during the early portion of the year is generally considered a wasteland for new releases. Those who caught up with the various awards-focused pictures at the end of the year will find little solace in what starts the year off. But whatever limited prospects studios have for the start of the year, there’s more often or not a few interesting limited releases that get stowed away for release. Had it a more capable studio, my belief is that 7 Boxes could have been a modest commercial hit. Having an extensive festival run, Breaking Glass Pictures brings the film to Chicago exclusively to the Gene Siskel Film Center. It’s a bit disappointing to see such a socially aware yet vibrant crowd pleaser relegated to such limited released, particularly since it would play well to a broader audience. As it stands, the very limited release may restrict its audience potential though 7 Boxes’ position as the year’s best release so far is absolute.
Set in a rural market town in Paraguay, the audience is first introduced to the picture’s protagonist Victor (Celso Franco) as he watches a poorly-dubbed American action film. His gaze is unrelenting, so much so that he loses out on a job because of it. As a wheelbarrow driver, Victor carts goods for locales and businesses at a nominal fee. Destitute, the young man has a flighty charm in large part because he finds a sense of magic in the technology that he comes across. He takes a shady though financially life-changing delivery job where he must wander the streets with seven boxes with undisclosed contents. The peculiarity of the job doesn’t hinder his overarching desire though: he simply wants to purchase a camera phone with his earnings.
7 Boxes possesses all the typical thrills associated with narrative of this sort: there are plenty of foot chases and miscommunication among characters to keep the picture grinding along. But not only is the film elegantly shot, it possesses a multitude of layers in text. From its study on a globalized marketplace and population (the film features not just natives, but also those of Korean and Arabic descent) to the problematic impact of social connectivity, 7 Boxes never allows genre convention to upend its broader social concerns. Quite literally barreling through its runtime, the propulsive energy that 7 Boxes possesses conceals its more obvious missteps - side stories that connect with Victor’s narrative never quite feel as fleshed out as they should - and highlights how massive in scope the picture feels. Akin to art-house favorites like Jia Zhang-ke’s A Touch of Sin and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds, 7 Boxes probes the social circumstance of its characters through a globalized lens, advising its audience of how the global impact of Americanization morphs and mutates into strange and scary things.