Robin Write looks at the Spanish-language film 7 Años (7 Years) which elevates its boiler room atmosphere into a taut psychological drama.
The Netflix ball just keeps on rolling. This time, we visit a Spanish drama from Roger Gual that mixes business with pleasure, but not as we know it. Set in one warehouse-y office location, 7 Years sets the scene for four shareholders of an extremely lucrative tech company to put themselves under the hammer. Introductions side, the film throws a curve-ball at us early, that the business in question is actually on the verge of being in very hot water indeed, and that those responsible now face serious jail time for apparent tax fraud.
The plan: reside in the one room until a resolution is met – all parties in agreement on which one of the four will commit to the bank transfer that will make them liable while the other three go unpunished. That establishes the 7 years in prison of the film’s title. They hire and liaise with an outside mediator to aid their life-altering decisions (they have a matter of hours only). The intrigue, revelations, high drama, betrayal, loyalty – you name it – brims to the surface, executing a well thought out initial premise right to the end.
The term “character study” is now synonymous with eye rolls in film criticism, but such a cliche could have derived from an expertly woven narrative as this. The three men and one woman are developed so rapidly to the audience, personas are defined, tested, and eventually laid bare. Seemingly both cold and sassy from the outset, Vero (Juana Acosta) holds her own among the men in the room, but as the cracks emerge she is shown to have weaknesses of the heart, but more instrumentally evidence of a slight lack of commitment to the business. The so-called leader of the pack, Marcel (Alex Brendemühl), is as confident (but naive) as required to lead such a tight, profitable ship, but the wall of trust he may once have had with colleagues (and wife) crumbles faster than he can control.
With the gift of the gab and a swagger to match his client-warming job description, Carlos (Juan Pablo Raba) is portrayed as a cocky jack-ass who can’t be touched nor harmed at first, but he surprises his work buddies and the audience in his see-sawing integrity. Then there is Luis (Paco León), the brains behind the entire venture, something of a likable loner, almost left behind by the flourishing business over the years, now perhaps surplus to requirements – and is targeted during the mediation on that basis. The mediator himself, José Veiga (Manuel Morón), is the only one to keep his head, remaining neutral throughout. He can walk at any time he sees fit with a hefty pay check, and the foursome’s dilemma can fall like dominoes in his departure.
As I was watching this, I vocally admired the writing here (primary credits go to José Cabeza and Julia Fontana). A screenplay like this, with little action or change of scenery, relies heavily on its premise, the extensive dialogue, while staying true to the human relationships of these fascinatingly drawn-out characters. And it succeeds without doubt. As the progressive focus of the plot morphs from job roles and their importance to the secrets and lies they all have in abundance, the layers peel away and the corporate onion gets uglier.
The confrontations, and choreography of the confined conversing, is remarkable and attention-holding throughout (a rather short film at way below the 90 minute mark). The performances are terrific too, they bring to the screen a realistic ripple effect of events and emotions, as the finger pointing switches back and forth between them. Credit to director Gual as well for keeping these excellent performers in line while maintaining a tight grasp of the tension and captivation that comes with such an intelligent tale.