7 Cajas (7 Boxes): opens Feb. 28 at the Roxie Theater

The exuberance of this latest film by the filmmaking duo of Maneglia-Schembori is reflected in its trailer; no doubt fans of heist genres will enjoy the multiple narratives and good guy/bad buy characterization. The film is at its strongest, however, where complex ideas surface from the hubbub.

For instance, there is Victor’s (our protagonist)  fixation on being filmed and being famous—his drive propels both him and the film forward, gives him some agency and provides a different way of showing how a poor boy from the city dreams of a better life. That better life is represented, variously, by an expensive mobile phone with a video camera and the ubiquity of TVs in the market, each depicting some version of the good life. (In this respect the film reminds me of Matteo Garrone’s Reality, which also takes place in a marketplace and uses television to hilarious and devastating effect). The second strongest idea in the film is that of the marketplace. The market, a slice of the urban jungle, is but a backdrop (albeit a dazzling and thoroughly wonderful one) for a bigger exchange that goes beyond goods. To survive, each person has something to trade for a price—  information, a mobile phone, a dirty secret, an affair. Throughout the film, the characters— often hilariously—trade goods for information, information for favors, secrets for safety. So while there are the good guys and the bad guys, everyone is driven by their own instincts for preservation, thus blurring those distinctions. There is also a delicious cross-section of leading and supporting characters which make both the narrative and the “market-ness” of the market more poignant: the lecherous but well-meaning police officer, the frustrated father unable to provide medicine for his child, the petty thief with helpful manners, the prostitute who encourages a budding romance, the jock-y immigrant boy ready to be a knight in shining armor.

The filmmakers have plenty to say on the socio-cultural front: they turn their frank eye to the pervasive fickleness of the dollar; the dangerous seduction of TV and advertising; the grind of urban poverty; and the inequality of the sexes. But they still manage to to turn in  a warm-hearted, funny, suspenseful film which roots for both the underdog and the not-so-bad guys.

7 Cajas (7 Boxes), dir. Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori, 2012. 100 min. Maneglia – Schémbori Realizadores, et al. In Guarani and Spanish.

Opens at The Roxie Theater, San Francisco, 28 February 2014.