In a sprawling Paraguayan marketplace populated by legit vendors and criminal organizations alike, a goods transporter, Victor (Celso Franco), dreams of power and wealth. The opening moments of Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori’s 7 Boxes finds the young man transfixed by a glossy American action film dubbed in Spanish. He’s so distracted by the Hollywood product that he lets Nelson (Víctor Sosa), a grizzled, shady competitor in the transport business, steal away a client.
This one deviation in routine sends Victor and his creaky wheelbarrow right into a messy situation involving seven sealed boxes holding nefarious contents. Owned by a degenerate butcher trying to evade the peaking eyes of the local police, the containers come to represent a primitive form of capitalism gone rotten. Jettisoned into the narrow corridors and serpentine alleyways of the film’s dynamic setting, Victor quickly realizes that he’s in way over his head. The marketplace is crawling with law enforcement officers investigating a surge in corruption and drug trafficking, and a squadron of lethal neighborhood thugs led by Nelson, who set their sights on Victor’s cargo.
Despite always being in imminent danger, Victor allows himself to become consumed by the allure of modern technology; in one scene, he stops mid-foot race to view a wall of televisions that are hooked up to a single video camera feed, seduced by his own projected image. Set in 2005, the film resides on the border between technological eras, pre-smart phone and post-Internet. As a result, there’s a manic fascination with gadgets that always seem to be out of reach due to monetary constraints. This theme comes full circle in the film’s referential final scene, which finds Victor delighted by the cellphone footage of the climactic shootout he’s just survived.
With its narrative centered around mistaken identity and a kidnapping gone awry, 7 Boxes owes a lot to Hitchcock’s lean early work like The 39 Steps and the Coen brothers’ Fargo. But it’s more than just a slick homage: The film is ripe with powerful subtext, specifically how greed, celebrity, and technology help to form a misguided sense of opportunity that keeps the working class downtrodden.