Review: On the Seventh Day

Writer-director Jim McKay brings an empathy to his scenario that recalls Robert M. Young’s Alambrista!

On the Seventh Day
Photo: Cinema Guild

Jim McKay’s On the Seventh Day is biblical in name but not in temperament. After all, its male characters, a group of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in a single Brooklyn apartment, don’t lean on faith alone to resolve their predicaments. They’re consumed by action, holding down jobs as delivery men, street vendors, or janitors, and spending Sundays playing soccer in a local park. McKay envisions their plight within the classical form of Italian neorealism, where the fear of losing temporary employment pushes economically desperate characters toward the breaking point.

In an early scene that could be lifted directly from Bicycle Thieves, José (Fernando Cardona), a delivery man for the upscale Mexican restaurant La Frontera, locks his bicycle outside a store. McKay’s low-angle shot lingers a beat or two after José leaves, suggesting the perpetual fragility one endures when personal livelihood is bound up in an object. José’s bike could be stolen, of course, but it’s the mere possibility of having one’s life turned upside down in a single instance that McKay stays keyed to throughout the film.

On the Seventh Day brings a certain levity to wrenching matters of daily survival by thoroughly humanizing its characters, thus preventing them from feeling as if they’re being written as stand-ins for thematic ideas. José’s central concern, beyond having his pregnant wife (Loren Garcia) safely travel from Mexico to Brooklyn in the coming months, is that he might not be able to play in a soccer championship with his flatmates because his boss, Steve (Christopher Gabriel Nùñez), demands that he work on what would normally be his day off. In fact, the film’s middle third is almost entirely consumed by this question: Will José put his job at risk by playing in the match?


McKay’s writing walks a tightrope between prodding José’s potentially wreckless decision and recognizing that both José’s sense of camaraderie and autonomy are being unfairly threatened in the process. The rational retort of “it’s only a game” uttered by co-workers and friends is complicated by Steve’s relative indifference to José’s life outside of work. McKay charts José’s increasing resentment toward his boss in tight close-ups; José isn’t prone to outbursts or even demonstrative expressions, and his face registers the testing of his tolerance for Steve’s condescending bullshit. The gig economy becomes especially degrading to workers when coupled with fears of deportation—a fact the film alludes to without wringing it for easy pathos.

José’s job takes him to tech offices, where people either greet his presence with a dismissive glance or a touch of debasement, as when one man complains about José’s poor service, despite the mix-up being completely this man’s fault. It’s worth noting that many of these individuals who José caters to are, like McKay himself, white, though unlike McKay’s filmmaking, they’re without any awareness of their behavior, which reeks of both racial and class privilege. If On the Seventh Day paints too broadly in these moments by setting up straw figures as easy targets for the woke viewer’s derision, they’re redeemed by a sharper outlook on the way class intersects with ethnicity, creating complicated dynamics that cannot be neatly categorized. Although Steve’s ethnic background isn’t explicitly stated in the film, he appears to be Latino, and his constant sighs, eyerolls, and belittling statements made toward José express a comparable frustration as the restaurant’s well-to-do customers in having to interact with members of the underclass.

McKay brings an empathy to his scenario that recalls Robert M. Young’s Alambrista!, which chronicles a Mexican man’s border crossing and attempted assimilation into a California town. Like that film, On the Seventh Day works best as a rebuke to nativist notions of “American values” by implying that an open compromise among employers and employees, neighbors, and neighboring nations is the only way to mitigate the effects of economic destitution. McKay treats the subject within a modest template, imparting José and his compatriots’ humanity with conviction and exigency. And in today’s cesspool of xenophobia and classism as political platform, that’s enough.

 Cast: Fernando Cardona, Genoel Ramírez, Gilberto Jimenez, Abel Perez, Alfonso Velazquez, Mathia Vargas, Loren Garcia, Christopher Gabriel Nùñez, Donal Brophy  Director: Jim McKay  Screenwriter: Jim McKay  Distributor: Cinema Guild  Running Time: 92 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2017

Clayton Dillard

Clayton Dillard is a lecturer in cinema at San Francisco State University.

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