7 Años (7 Years)
How much money is your life worth? Are some people’s lives worth more than others? Would you betray a friend to save yourself? In 7 Años, the superbly tense and tightly-plotted Netflix Original film, these unanswerable questions are given a fierce and thorough examination.
The plot is simple: four colleagues have committed serious fraud and are all facing seven years in prison. However, if just one of them were to take responsibility for the crime, then the other three would walk free. The film takes place almost entirely in one room, where the characters have gathered for a boardroom-style meeting to determine which one of them will take the fall. They have even hired an impartial mediator to ensure things run smoothly. Nobody is willing to go to prison themselves, but equally they’re too polite to suggest someone else should go in their place. Throughout the film, these characters are struggle to maintain civility when faced with an impossible decision.
The tension starts high and only increases further. Each passing minute seems to bring a new detail to light, suddenly shifting the balance of power within the group. When this happens the characters are forced to react, racing to see who can spin this detail to their advantage. The plot develops with the speed and turbulence of a fighter jet. Shaking, handheld camera shots create a sense of chaos and disorder, with the camera snapping from one character to another as if struggling to keep up. Tightly-framed close-ups make the warehouse boardroom feel increasingly claustrophobic, the atmosphere increasingly tense. Static shots, because they are used so sparingly, sometimes make a character seem in control. But of course, this control is always temporary.
The film resembles a white-collar Reservoir Dogs, but with much less violence and much more provocative content. It drips moral ambiguity. While on one level it’s thrilling to watch these long-time workmates turn on each other like wolves, on another you can’t help but feel that, in the same situation, you would probably do the same. We can feel anger towards a character who exploits their sick father to avoid jail, but at the same time we can totally understand their motivation. You cannot help but form judgements about the characters, and as more of their pasts are revealed through the conversation your judgements will change. A character you felt sorry for one minute you could hate the next, and vice versa. You will root for some characters and against others. You will want to join in the debate.
In its remarkably short 77-minute runtime, barely a second of 7 Años is wasted. It is not until the film’s end credits that the viewer is finally allowed time to consider the weight of what has been discussed. The credits play out over a shot of the mediator riding a taxi home, silently contemplating. This is a film designed to make you think.