‘En el Séptimo Día’: He Has to Work, but His Team Needs Him

Posted June 7, 2018 7:15 p.m. EDT

“En el Séptimo Día” pulls off the tricky feat of feeling utterly natural as it ratchets with the mechanics of drama and suspense. A return to Brooklyn for the filmmaker turned television director Jim McKay — whose terrific Crown Heights coming-of-age movie “Our Song” opened in 2001 — the film doesn’t shy from showing its range of influences or its multiculturalism. The credits and subtitles are in English and Spanish. The nonprofessional cast members are as compelling as any pros.

Set over the course of slightly more than a week in the summer of 2016 (when it was shot), “En el Séptimo Día” (“On the Seventh Day”) revolves around José (Fernando Cardona), the captain of a Sunset Park soccer team. Like his fellow players, José is an unauthorized immigrant. But after the team qualifies for the finals, José learns that Steve (Christopher Gabriel Núñez), his boss at a Mexican restaurant, needs him to work the Sunday of the game. Inconveniently, José is both the best player on the team and Steve’s best bicycle deliveryman.

From a practical perspective, José's choice isn’t much of a choice. He can’t lose his job for a game, and besides, he likes the work, despite condescending customers, including an office worker who can’t even be bothered to be there when his order arrives. We eventually learn that José also has a pregnant wife in Mexico. She is peripheral to his daily routine and crowded living arrangement, which McKay captures in vivid but uninflected detail, though critical to his reasoning.

The film turns less on José's decision than on what that decision says about him. At once a work of social realism and a parable (as its biblical title suggests), the movie subtly advocates for the virtues of camaraderie, solidarity, and sticking up for yourself and your friends. José hesitates to reveal to Steve why he doesn’t want to work on Sunday; he also worries about telling his teammates he can’t play, although he repeatedly hints to them that they may need two men to replace Artemio (Genoel Ramírez), who is injured at the start of the film.

Improbably, José's teammates contrive a way for him to be in two places at once. The climactic sequence — simple in concept but tensely staged, foregrounding the ticktock of time that’s present from the opening minutes — may leave you as breathless as it leaves José. It’s a bit of movie magic, and “En el Séptimo Día” is too smart to pretend it will solve everything.

“En el Séptimo Día” is not rated. In Spanish and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes.