Your television isn’t the only place to catch soccer action this weekend. Take a break from the FIFA World Cup and head out to the cinema for Jim McKay’s new film “En el Séptimo Día” (“On the Seventh Day”) about a group of Mexican immigrants living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn who spend each Sunday playing soccer or as it’s known in Mexico, fútbol. José, the team’s captain and best player, works as a bicycle delivery man with the hopes of being promoted to busboy. When his team makes it to the finals José finds himself in a predicament after his boss asks him to work on Sunday, the day of the championship game. The undocumented worker must choose between the team or his job.
The film takes place over the course of one week in the summer of 2016. José (Fernando Cardona) begins each Sunday at church and then heads to the field at Sunset Park to join team Puebla to compete in the local fútbol league. Named after their hometown in Mexico, the team clinches the semi-finals to compete in the championship next Sunday. On Monday José receives the bad news from his boss Steve (Christopher Gabriel Núñez), the restaurant is opening on Sunday for a private brunch and everyone is required to work. José knows that if he tells his boss that he needs the day off to play fútbol he’ll be fired, and he needs his job to save up enough money to bring over his 3-month pregnant girlfriend who is still in Mexico. On the other hand, the team will surely lose the championship game without José, their best player.
On the surface, this sounds like an easy choice to make but as the week progresses we begin to understand José’s predicament. He lives in a small apartment with nine other undocumented workers from Puebla, Mexico. They all work long hours Monday through Saturday as construction workers, dishwashers, and street vendors. On Sunday they unwind by doing what they love most, playing fútbol. This is much more than just a group of friends getting together to play soccer. They are a close-knit family, strangers in a foreign country who come together for one day a week as part of a ritual that celebrates their country’s heritage. The significance of the sport also explains why José neglects to tell his teammates that he won’t be available to play, instead, he encourages them to find backup players in case someone gets injured.
Most of writer-director Jim McKay’s films take place in Brooklyn. In 1995 he burst on the scene with the inner city teenage drama “Girls Town” starring Lili Taylor and Bruklin Harris, six years later he returned with “Our Song” a female coming-of-age drama set in Crown Heights while his third film “Everyday People” was centered around a Jewish owned Brooklyn eatery with a predominately black clientele. McKay’s last film, “Angel Rodriguez” about an inner-city teen struggling to survive on the streets gave further evidence that the color of one’s skin doesn’t limit a person to be able to tell diverse stories.
So how does a white guy from New Jersey get inspired to make films about other ethnic groups? McKay’s starting point was the book Mexican New York by Robert Smith. Throw in experience working alongside Yucatan immigrants at a restaurant and inspiration from his wife Hannah Weyer's documentary “La Boda” about a family of Mexican immigrants, and you have the beginnings of “En el Séptimo Día.” The next step was casting the Sunset Park immigrants in the fictional film. The non-actors bring a genuine level of authenticity to the film and they turned out to be good actors, especially Fernando Cardona.
McKay keeps you engrossed with the lives of José and his community without resorting to quick edits or a driving score during the fútbol match. The writer-director is one of the most underrated and influential East Coast filmmakers. Let’s hope it won’t take another 12 years for his next film which once again may deal with life in the inner city or another Brooklyn neighborhood. Wishful thinking.
(3 ½ stars)