Would you go to prison for your friends? Let me rephrase that. Imagine you’re a millionaire with millionaire friends/business partners of a company you all painstakingly built from the ground up. Would you go to prison for them? For the company? What would you sacrifice? Who would you betray?
These are the questions that chase you as you watch the short-running (77 minutes in length) Spanish drama, 7 AÃ±os. Director Roger Gual (Smoking Room, Remake) attempts to portray the sensitive balance of business, friendship, suspicions, lies and alliances with a high-stakes backdrop.
The film follows four shareholders in a tech company under investigation for tax fraud. One can take the fall and spend 7 years in prison so that the rest walk free. The question becomes one of choice: who is the sacrifice?
On the surface, like any human relationship, it seems like none of these four can decide; they are all old friends after all, familiar with each other’s past and the secrets that entail them. Hence, they hire a mediator (Manuel MorÃ³n) to help navigate their dilemma. But as time becomes luxury, the conversations of decency peel away to expose their honest, uglier thoughts and the true feelings they have for one another.
And this is where the movie shines: characters and dialogue. A mixture of monologues and long conversations expose more and more about these characters and their intriguing relationships with one another, and the movie flows smoothly towards the final confrontation. The amount of revelations and subtle betrayals within the movie is enough to give any high-production drama a run for its money. The way the evolving plot is navigated is clever, attributable to a strong screenplay. It is a joy to anticipate the reactions of each character when they’re facing a new challenge and to watch them shift the attention to one another as alliances are made and broken. Juana Acosta, Paco LeÃ³n, Alex BrendemÃ¼hl and Juan Pablo Ruba all deliver solid performances, each actor succeeding in portraying their character’s own insecurities – a theme that rings loud throughout the movie.
It’s easy to forget that the whole thing takes place in only one setting: a hangar-like company office. Indeed, most of the story revolves around a table. The film boasts seamless, intelligent choreography, moving the actors around the set with straightforward, effective lighting and camerawork that never distracts and focuses solely on serving the story. In fact, the single location renders the movie claustrophobic, reflecting the inner feelings of the characters. The cinematography, like the setting and the lighting, is simple. Gual opts not to distract the audience with complex angles and fast editing, letting the plot unfold naturally; it’s about dialogue rather than action. Helping amplify it all is Federico Jusid’s ominous, fast paced music, which looms over the story and adds to the dramatic atmosphere of the film, often perfectly complimenting the tension in the room.
Good performances, smart dialogue aside and solid filmmaking aside, the movie also has its shortcomings. The beginning of the movie, though not boring, may fail to captivate some viewers. The movie’s essence is in the history and relationships that the characters share. And while characters do transform from single-dimension stereotypes into real, relatable people, each with their own troubles and beliefs, these personas are not relatable from the get-go and it’s hard to invest in them for sometime. Long continuous shots at the intro, reminiscent of Birdman, are perhaps included to remedy this. If you’re one for captivating intros, 7 AÃ±os may test your patience, seeing as the intriguing plot really starts to roll around the twenty-minute mark. Like the film’s subject matter, time is important, especially for a movie that is only an hour and fifteen minutes long.
Furthermore, the movie occasionally delves into philosophical metaphors (chess pieces = character reveals) that don’t add a lot to the story or to the characters. It seems as if the writers required a tool to carry on the story but they were limited in their options to do so.
Despite the shortcomings, 7 AÃ±os is relatively good investment for much of its runtime and is an overall solid addition to Spanish cinema. It offers an intriguing narrative while also pushing the viewers to reconsider their own values and, with characters representing different aspect of what it means to be human, puts forth some interesting dilemmas touching on both friendship and sincerity.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10