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7 Boxes (2012) tells the story of Victor, a young man who works at the Mercado 4 in Asuncion and has dreams of being on the big screen. When he is given the job of transporting 7 boxes for $100 (USD) he takes it, but things prove to be much more complicated and Victor becomes enveloped in a criminal web of lies.
Slouching Towards Democracy
After Stroessner’s overthrow, exiles were allowed to return and the creation in 1991 of the Mercosur, the regional common market comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay signaled a return to favor. However, the dismal democracy saw three bouts of military instability (in April 1996, March 1999, and May 2000), the assassination of vice president, Luis Argaña in 1999, and the indictments of two former presidents, Juan Carlos Wasmosy (1993-98) and Raul Gonzalez Macchi (1998-99) on corruption charges led migration to Europe to explode due to disillusionment with the government. Tragedy struck when on Sunday, August 1, 2004, a fire broke out in the Ycua Bolaños supermarket in Trinidad, a neighborhood of Asuncion. The fire came from a grill and spread unnoticed between the building’s false ceiling and roof, causing the release of flammable gas.
The flames entered the central air conditioning system, causing its nitrogen coolant to explode. The tragedy was caused by the inexplicable absence of both a fire detection system and adequate emergency exits. But perhaps most shocking of all, survivors reported that when they finally reached the doors, they found them locked. The fire burned for seven hours and left 396 dead, nearly half of whom were children. In this environment, a former bishop and liberation theologist, Fernando Lugo, emerged at the forefront of the protests against President Duarte Frutos (2003-08) and soon after, as the leading presidential candidate. Lugo’s election in 2008 had shown a popular desire for change after over half a century of authoritarianism and Colorado Party rule.
He even named Margarita Mbywangi, an Ache Indian who saw her own family decimated by Stroessner, named Minister of Indigenous Affairs. This optimism came to a halt in April 2009 when a young and impoverished former parishioner, Viviana Carrillo, declared Lugo to be the father of her child. Lugo finally confessed that Guillermo Armindo was indeed his son and that he would henceforth support him and his mother. It led to criticism since during his electoral campaign, he had used his position as a former bishop to portray himself as a man of god and as more trustworthy. The final nail in his coffin was the Massacre of Curuguaty. In 2012, 300 heavily-armed police officers stormed into Marina Kue in the Curuguaty district of Paraguay in an attempt to evict 70 rural farmworkers who had occupied the land. The landless workers asserted that the land belonged to the state before former dictator Alfredo Stroessner passed it to its new owner, Blas Riquelme. The conflict, which swiftly turned violent, resulted in the deaths of 11 Campesinos and six policemen. The youngest of the Campesinos was 18-year-old Luciano Ortega. The right-wing Congress declared it was entirely Lugo’s fault and subsequently impeached him. However, it was denounced as a coup by regional organizations like Unasur and Mercosur. Three days after the 2012 massacre, Paraguay’s public prosecutor filed criminal charges against 12 Campesinos on charges of premeditated homicide, invasion of property, and criminal association. Clearly, the oppressive elements in the government had not been purged.
7 Boxes appears almost as a rumination on what it means to be Paraguayan. To answer the question, the director seems to think Paraguay’s diversity is what makes them stronger and is what leads to any semblance of justice. Throughout the film, the main characters jump in and out of Spanish and Guarani with fluency. This switch in languages creates at times a chaotic but fascinating rhythm for the film. This rhythm is used to demarcate the line between good and evil. Those that can speak in this rhythm are on the good side, even Nelson, the porter who chases Victor around for the entire movie. The fact that he speaks the two languages shows that he is not so evil as he may seem. His only motivation towards violence is the fact that he does not have enough money to buy medication for his child. At the end, he is clearly shocked and horrified to see the boxes he has been after are not filled with money but a dead body. Nelson is not an evil mastermind, he is a victim caught in a cynical system. Guarani is not the only language present in the film. Victor’s sister’s coworker, Jim, is the son of a Korean immigrant. It is precisely his outsider persona that allows him to go unnoticed as he films the final showdown of the film and ensures at least that Victor will not be arrested. This also gives Victor his dream of finally being on the news. The only people that don’t straddle the Spanish-speaking world and another one are the true villains of the piece. The crime boss and the husband who orchestrated the kidnapping of his own wife are the only ones that never speak Guarani or any other language. They represent the evil elite that dirty other people’s hands rather than their own. Those who can’t accept Paraguay’s diversity are doomed to destroy it.
A Neoliberal Victory
The film starts off by showing the terrible economic situations of each of our characters. They are all forced to work in jobs (part of the formal and informal economy) that exhaust and degrade them endlessly. In an oppressive neoliberal economic model, there is no other way to exist. From the onset of Victor obtaining this job, money is connected to violence. Victor is offered half of a $100 bill that is ripped in front of him. It’s torn apart in the same way that the cadaver of a woman is cut up into the 7 boxes. Unbeknownst to him, the bill lost its value the second it was given to him the same way that the boxes lost their value the second they were given to him. Once again, the work does not match the pay in any way. The second he takes the job, other workers who would literally kill to be in his place are trying to take him down. That cut-up bill represents the death of money and a fractious society. Futilely, Victor and many others fight for scraps while the elite look on. This fracture is represented perfectly in its ending. While Victor attains some semblance of victory through the filming of the police showdown as he finally achieves his dream and avoids a criminal conviction, it is also representative of a broken society. Victor and Nelson are reduced to tabloid fodder ready to be consumed by the national audience while under the radar, the husband who hired his own wife’s kidnapping is escaping away from the cameras. In the end, there is no camera big enough to catch the real crimes of the criminal underworld.