Turning the Paraguayan capital’s biggest public market into an arena for a wild and cunningly plotted chase movie, filmmaking partners Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori build a rollicking entertainment with “7 Boxes.” Certain to be one of the first titles from Paraguay to make a serious dent in the international marketplace, the pic makes a pleasurable surplus from minimal resources and plenty of ironic-comic-violent storytelling energy. Word of mouth will translate into lusty sales worldwide, with a good chance Stateside to buck the recent trend of a lack of Spanish-language hits.
A 17-year-old with big dreams, scrappy wheelbarrow carter Victor (Celso Franco, in a breakout performance) loses himself in fantasies of being a heartthrob on TV when he should be hustling for more work in, Asuncion’s bustling Market No. 4, a center for trade in all manner of goods, covering eight city blocks. His local universe revolves around his pushy gal-pal Liz (Lali Gonzalez, initially annoying and finally winning) and big sister Tamara (Nelly Davalos), who works with friend Leti (Katia Garcia) in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where Mandarin (amusingly unsubtitled) is more often heard than Spanish.
What Victor doesn’t know is that rival carter Nelson (an increasingly intense Victor Sosa) has arranged a deal with butcher Dario (Paletita) to transport seven boxes (crates, actually) of unknown goods to a designated dropoff point for a nice payday. Needing the money to pay for meds for his sick child, Nelson goes into a rage when he learns that the deal has instead gone to Victor, since Nelson was tardy.
With Nelson determined to stop Victor, the cops beefing up security, and thieves circulating in every aisle of the outdoor market’s massive maze, Victor has enough obstacles for more than a few videogame versions of the movie. And at first, it appears that Maneglia’s script is going to do little more than maximize the obstacles for its innocent, puckish hero to overcome.
However, as the movie develops, a more ironic and crafty strategy develops, growing more devious with each succeeding sequence. The image of Victor’s rolling, rocking wheelbarrow (sometimes viewed in Richard Careaga’s highly kinetic lensing from the ground’s p.o.v.) suggests a metaphor for the wheels-within-wheels of the various parties involved, and how their interests circulate back to Victor, trying against all odds to get the job done.
Only in the case of Dario interacting with immediate boss Luis (Nico Garcia) does the comedy spill over into the ridiculous, but otherwise, the cast is primed for a vital blend of dark comedy and serious bloodletting, especially during the mounting third-act body count. Physical coverage of the actual location, accented by a few dazzling and beautifully staged chase sequences, is one of this poor-man’s action movie’s biggest achievements. Music by Fran Villalba is overcooked.