A potent, visually stunning combination of the explosive and the lyrical, Carlos Saura’s “The 7th Day” returns to the kind of dynamic social drama that made his name 40 years ago. Finely scripted, played and lensed pic reps helmer’s best regular feature for some time, taking a 1990 real-life massacre in a Spanish pueblo as the basis for a take on the persistence of evil and the tragedies it spawns. Initial B.O. was solid but not special for the April 23 release, but Saura’s reputation and pic’s merits should generate offshore interest beyond Spanish-speaking territories. Fest screenings are likely.
Teenager Isabel Jimenez (Yohana Cobo) narrates the background to events. Since the break-up of a courtship between Luciana Fuentes (Victoria Abril) and Isabel’s uncle, Amadeo Jimenez (Juan Sanz), a feud between the families has been brewing, complicated by issues of land rights. The mentally unstable Jeronimo Fuentes (Ramon Fontsere) kills Amadeo and is sent to jail; on his release, he tries to stab Isabel’s father, butcher Jose (Jose Garcia) and is promptly locked up again.
Jeronimo’s death in jail, together with the death of his mother when the family house is burned down (presumably by a Jimenez), provoke the remaining members of the Fuentes family into revenge. These are Jeronimo’s brothers, Antonio (Juan Diego) and Emilio (Jose Luis Gomez), and sisters, the Lady Macbeth-like Luciana, now an older woman, and Angela (Ana Wagener). The four move to a nearby village, where they start to fester in their own sour psychological juices.
The Jimenez family is doing its best to live a normal life: Jose is married to Carmen (Eulalia Ramon) and, apart from Isabel, they have two other daughters, Antonia (Irene Escolar) and Encarnacion (Alejandra Lozano). Like Isabel, they’re innocent of the family rivalry which threatens their happiness. Isabel, with the help of b.f. Chino (Oriol Vila), sets about figuring out the truth, aided by village idiot El Tonto (Carlos Hipolito), who claims to have seen her father setting the Fuentes house on fire.
With what later turns out to be tragic irony, Jose contemplates leaving the pueblo, eventually realizing it won’t be financially possible.
Meanwhile, in a nearby farmhouse, revenge is brewing as the Fuentes brothers polish their shotguns and slowly go insane in their social and psychological isolation.
One expects stunning visuals from Saura’s recent work, and “Day” delivers. The atmospherics of country life come via lovingly-composed compositions courtesy of Francois Lartigue, proving Saura does not need Vittorio Storaro to generate beauty. Lensing lingers over the quilted ocher expanses of central Spain, and it seems impossible that such brutal violence could emerge from such tranquility.
Other visual oppositions are similarly set up, particularly between the airy freshness of the Jimenez girls — all laughter and pale, fluttering dresses — and the grimness of the Fuentes quartet, surrounded by darkness, unkempt, tough-skinned, wearing coarse cloth and driven by bitterness about the past rather than hope for the future. The tragic showdown between these two worlds, in the village square, filmed in real time, is likewise a visual tour de force, both moving and shocking.
Pic’s freshness mostly comes from novelist Ray Loriga’s script, which maintains a double focus on both the preparations for the revenge and on the world it will destroy. It does this by shuttling nimbly between families and time frames, though its attempts to show the broader background via brief glimpses of village life sometimes take it down dramatic blind alleys — especially in the relationship between Isabel and the unpleasantly macho Chino. Scenes which take place in the local brothel, featuring a singing dwarf, also do little to concentrate the mood.
Perfs, particularly from vets Diego and Gomez, muttering insanely to one another, are excellent, with Diego in particular consolidating his rep as Spanish cinema’s principal grizzled roughhouse. Abril, looking as she never has before, is suitably over the top. However, given the complete inarticulateness of these characters, the script can shed little light on their psychology.
Roque Banos’ delicate, flamenco-based score also merits mention.