En el Séptimo Día rarely broaches the hazards of undocumented life in America directly, often restricting it to the margins.
Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día begins with a brief but symbolic montage of images that establish the personality of Mexican immigrant José (Fernando Cardona) through his leisure activities. Arriving at church to pray on Sunday morning, José then heads back to his apartment to collect the members of the soccer team he captains. Heading to a park in Brooklyn, the team competes in the semifinals of an amateur tournament. Their match is filmed with an eye, and especially an ear, for the nature of competition in a public park. The sound is somewhat muted, stressing the ambient noise of people passing through the area on relaxing strolls or playing their own games as the dull thump of feet connecting with a soccer ball provides an arrhythmic score to the random motions and actions of the larger area.
The match establishes two crucial plot points: how dominant José is on his team, and the knee injury of teammate Artemio (Genoel Ramírez). Jose’s team wins the match and advances to the finals, but Artemio’s injury throws a wrench into everyone’s schedule for the week ahead. Wanting their friend to rest up for the final, José and the other teammates immediately begin to plan altering their work around him, substituting any non-physical job they might be working for his food-delivery routes. Given that no one works a job higher than that of a dishwasher or delivery man, the ability to swap each other’s labor with ease suggests an immediate, simple solution to their problem, at least until José’s boss, restaurant owner Steve (Christopher Gabriel Núñez), realizes that someone else turns up to work one day instead of his usual dishwasher. Accusing his actual employee of goldbricking, Steve flies into a rage that José barely mollifies, and he casually drops notice to a horrified José that a last-minute party reservation for Sunday means that his courier will have to work on the day of the finals.
This simple setup hints at a stark dichotomy between the immigrant and natural perspectives, of the hard work of one side colliding with the presumptiveness and callousness of the other. To be sure, there are more than a few moments in which José, riding his bike all over Brooklyn to make deliveries as quickly as possible, finds himself twitching in irritation and anxiety when one of his white customers orders food and then does not bother to be in their office to accept the delivery. In one amusing scene, José waits so long inside an office that he gives up and hangs the bag on the door of the person who ordered, only to get back to the restaurant to learn that the man called in a fury that his food was left, and even complains that it was cold.
Yet the film digs deeper into the network of characters it slowly builds, and it finds complexity in what could otherwise have been simplistic interactions. Steve, so antagonistic and haughty in his first scene, later shows glimpses of kindness, as when he learns that Artemio injured his knee and he displays brief but genuine concern for the injured man. Steve’s gratitude can sometimes seem condescending, but there are moments where he thanks José and sounds sincerely happy to have such a good employee. Likewise, Steve’s second-in-command, Lisa (Mathia Vargas), is often the good cop to Steve’s bad cop, looking out for the backroom workers and couriers, but when José confesses that he needs to get out of work on Sunday to play soccer, she becomes serious and warns him about losing his job for a hobby. She also reminds him of his attempts to become stable enough in New York to send for his wife, Elizabeth (Loren Garcia), still in Mexico, and José’s attempts to organize everything to pull off playing in this match are suddenly, subtly recast as selfish rather than selfless.
En el Séptimo Día rarely broaches the hazards of undocumented life in America directly, often restricting it to the margins. Yet this never seems like an attempt to avoid pontification or confrontation than a reflection of the ambient anxiety of existence among those who might report or detain you at any moment. A passing mention of a friend so spooked by the mere sight of police officers that he ran and ended up getting arrested prompts weary head-shaking from Jose’s group, and the imperious tone of many white customers is an indignity that José must suffer in respectful silence.
There are, however, numerous grace notes throughout this patiently observed film. José’s entire face brightens whenever a white person can speak fluent Spanish with him, and one conversation with an office worker who recognizes the Puebla FC sticker on his bike offers a much-needed moment to relax and connect just as José’s stress started to get the best of him. Everything culminates on the day of the final as José’s team concocts a Hail Mary scheme to get their captain to play. Their plan is by turns comical, tense and—when a watching fan (Donal Brophy) catches wise and offers his help—moving. Tonally, it’s a fitting end for a film where the stakes are always incredibly low and incredibly high at the same time, one whose superficial driving plot masks far deeper subtexts of community, aspiration and the pursuit of happiness.