Film Reviews

Affectionate Slice-of-Life En el Séptimo Día Faces Hard Choices and the American Dream

Fernando Cardona plays José, a top soccer player who has seven days until the championship game to choose between his team or his job, in Jim McKay's En el Séptimo Día.
Fernando Cardona plays José, a top soccer player who has seven days until the championship game to choose between his team or his job, in Jim McKay's En el Séptimo Día. Courtesy of Cinema Guild
On the seventh day of creation, the Bible says God rested. On the seventh day of his own week, En el Séptimo Día’s José dedicates his free time to his two faiths — the church and soccer. Not only does José play soccer with his roommates every Sunday, he’s their top player, leading the Puebla team into the finals. Unfortunately, José’s boss isn’t interested in the sport or his workers and asks José to come in on his day off to deliver food — no excuses. José must decide what to honor: his team or his job.

José’s internal tug of war slowly unravels over the course of the seven days leading up to the championship game. Jim McKay’s naturalistic drama finds José under pressure not just from his teammates, but from his boss and his pregnant girlfriend back home in Mexico. He barely masks the tiredness of carrying these conflicting demands. José serves as team captain, both officially on the field but also in his way at home and work, where he tries to look after his friends. He covers for a roommate’s injury and smooths things over with his demanding boss.

The actor behind José, Fernando Cardona, musters a sympathetic performance out of a character who always wears his poker face. He restrains himself during every setback and insult, with lips pressed closed and serious eyes looking forward. Occasionally, the cast’s inexperience trips up the dialogue’s rhythm, but the film would lack its natural, authentic cadence without these non-actors.

En el Séptimo Día carefully observes the men’s world in realistic details, pausing to appreciate what we might only half-pay attention to if we were living this. As José prays in church, his teammates prep for their next game: Shirts are ironed on the table, banda music blares in the background, soccer cleats are wiped clean and old water bottles are refilled then tossed into a cooler. At the field, the camera wanders away from the players and focuses on onlookers’ faces reacting to the game. To drive home its documentary-like style, on-screen text sets up the time and place of the story: “Sunset Park, Brooklyn U.S.A. – Verano/Summer, 2016.”

In a way, En el Séptimo Día resembles Sean Baker’s early film, Take Out, which follows a delivery man on a do-or-die mission to scrounge up cash to cover his immigration debt. Although José’s story is less frantic, both reveal men who have risked everything to work in this country but have yet to fully achieve their American dreams. When customers or his boss are rude to José, audiences feel the obvious sting of clueless privilege and what he must go through to deliver food.

Director McKay has a fondness for life’s underdogs. It’s an affection he showed with earlier films like Everyday People, which centers on the staff of a Brooklyn restaurant, and Angel Rodriguez, which follows a Brooklyn teen fighting off homelessness. These are the working class stories not playing in prime time or the big screen, with a group of people that much of America seems to have forgotten. Through his efforts, McKay captures a genuine sense of the bittersweet reality of the American dream and the people who give up their only weekly day of rest just to keep it alive.
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Monica Castillo is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.