Jim McKay’s tale of the plight of undocumented workers in America is soulful, sensitive, and a potent rebuke to modern rhetoric about the humanity of immigrants.
This piece was originally published on Alcohollywood
It’s easy to demonize an entire group of people when you know nothing about them. Murderers, rapists, thieves, and drug-dealing gangsters are just some of the things Mexicans have been called recently, but not just by your average American, but by the most intellectually average, yet politically powerful American in the United States: President Donald J. Trump. This intentional misinformation is the best way to create enemies where none exist, just ask Hitler. Films like this year’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado only add on to this gross misinformation by perpetuating these false stereotypes and fetishizing them. Then there are films like En el Séptimo Día that deliver an enlightening experience by showing the side of the daily immigrant struggle that rarely ever gets seen.
En el Séptimo Día follows a group of undocumented Mexican immigrants, showing us a week in their lives. The film’s title translates to “on the seventh day”, which is meant to be the only day these immigrants aren’t working. Their lives consist of working every day but one, which they fill with playing on a soccer team, their only escapist treat. José (Fernando Cardona) is our main entry into this examination of the average Mexican immigrant struggle. His journey to try and get just a little respite, something we take for granted on a weekly basis, becomes the centerpiece of the film. The dilemma becomes a personal one, forcing José to choose between the job he uses to support his family in Mexico and his only act of self-care. The final outcome of the film perfectly summarizes the immigrant experience, highlighting how small victories are still major defeats.
Unlike films like Sicario: Day of the Soldado, that rely on bombast or over-stylized visuals to get their propaganda across, En el Séptimo Día takes a completely humble approach to filmmaking that verges on the naturalistic. Director/writer Jim McKay uses this demure, yet effective visual scheme to mirror the incredibly modest lives of the subjects of the film. Nothing about their lives is embellished or over the top, and that is reflected in the way the film is shot. McKay is clearly not setting out to exaggerate the lives of these people, especially when there are already many external sources, like Fox News, that parrot President Trump’s “fake news” on a daily basis. In true cinéma vérité, McKay succeeds in showcasing the everyday struggle of an undocumented Mexican immigrant devoid of any artifice.
The film’s dialogue is simple, but natural, creating believable genuine characters that are easy to relate to. Even the actors in this film appear to be real people with little to no acting experience. At times, the scenes feel a little stiff or awkward because it, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra layer of verisimilitude it adds overall. Although I firmly believe that minority stories should be told by the minorities themselves, McKay acts as a conduit through which their story flows freely and without bias. Most of my family consisted of undocumented Mexican immigrants and no part of this film feels false or pretentious.
Although the McKay developed the story and lent his directorial eye to the film, the voice that resonates throughout isn’t his, but the real people like my parents and grandparents, who came to this country for a better life for their families. McKay transforms this project from a movie into a megaphone meant to give voice to the voiceless. One of many powerful scenes in the film involves an immigrant who was involved in a biking accident, through no fault of their own. Like any other person, he should go to the hospital, but begs the witnesses to the accident not to take him there. Not just because he likely can’t afford all the hospital costs, but also because that would alert the American Gestapo, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and they would swiftly deport him.
This film explains a sad fact of why undocumented immigrants cannot use their voice to cry out against the many human injustices they suffer: fear. If they speak up, they get noticed, and if they get noticed, they get removed from the only source of support to their families. As I’ve learned from my family’s experiences, they would rather suffer a million indignities, and injuries to body and character, than not be able to take care of their family.
According to the Bible, even God rested on the seventh day so that’s why Sunday is usually acknowledged as the day of rest. As an undocumented immigrant, employers knowingly take advantage of their precarious legal position to get the most labor for the least pay, meaning working every day. Showing the Mexican immigrant struggle for the American dream is what makes En el Séptimo Día the perfect act of subversion and compassion against a heartless political administration that is, at this very moment, separating children from their families and locking them up.
En el Séptimo Día is currently playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center until August 2nd.