The first thing you notice about “On the Seventh Day (En el Séptimo Día)” is that it doesn’t sound like a sports movie.
In the opening sequence we watch a soccer game in a Brooklyn neighborhood park, and it takes a moment to adjust to the realism: There’s no inspirational music swelling, or digital thudding of the ball colliding with a foot. Nobody’s doing the wave. (Note to self: Find out if people still do the wave.)
It sounds exactly like what you’d hear if you walked past a game in progress at your local park on a quiet Sunday afternoon and decided to lean against the fence to watch for a while.
Writer-director Jim McKay is clearly gifted at capturing authentic places and faces, and that’s what gives “On the Seventh Day” its everyday enchantment. The movie’s hero is José (Fernando Cardona) a bicycle delivery man for a classy Mexican restaurant.
José is patient and steady, carefully planning his rise up the ladder at the restaurant (he’s been promised a job on the floor) and a visit to Mexico to transport his pregnant wife to Brooklyn. He shares an apartment with a bunch of undocumented pals from Mexico, and plays soccer with them on Sundays.
Here’s the problem: Next Sunday is the league championship game. But José’s boss (Christopher Gabriel Nunez) insists he work on Sunday, his day off, during a private party. José has no leverage in this dilemma. He needs to keep that precious job, and the game is just a game, right?
As the current, frequently thrilling World Cup proves, the game is never entirely just a game. “On the Seventh Day” raises lots of issues: migrant workers’ rights, the anxiety of being undocumented, the joys of community.
It also raises suspense; for a movie so low-key, the stakes become urgent as Sunday approaches. Partly this is because José is an intriguing character, a man who thinks more than he talks. He should simply blurt out his problem to his boss and his friends, but instead he tries to find ways to solve it himself.
He wants to be the hero in this situation, but maybe he needs help. Cardona, in his first acting job, has charisma to burn — you never doubt he’s the leader of his scrappy little group of guys.
McKay first came to indie attention with his films “Girls Town” and “Our Song,” then went into directing TV episodes for a decade. His skills have sharpened over the years.
One of the wonderful things about “On the Seventh Day” (the film will apparently be known by both Spanish and English titles, and more than half the dialogue is in Spanish) is the depiction of its section of Brooklyn. We follow José on his rounds and get a sense of how the streets fit together, how people from different worlds mingle, how the whole system works.
We might even notice that at the end of some long streets you can glimpse the Statue of Liberty way, way off in the distance. It’s not emphasized — the movie is too modest for that — but there she stands. Set (and filmed) in 2016, this movie already seems like a missive from a distant past.
“On the Seventh Day (En el Séptimo Día)” (4 stars)
Wonderful slice of life about a group of soccer players in Brooklyn who must juggle their undocumented status and their jobs. Director Jim McKay builds suspense in a quiet way, and the neighborhood really comes to life. In English and Spanish, with English subtitles.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter
Opening Saturday: Grand Illusion Cinema