The 7th Day (El 7º día)
A Violent History
In an isolated village in Extremadura, Spain, the Jiménez and Fuentes families have a violent history of land disputes, jealousy, envy, and violence. The explosive and the lyrical come together Carlos Saura’s “The 7th Day”, a dynamic social drama. The film uses a 1990 real-life massacre in a Spanish pueblo as the basis for a take on the persistence of evil and the tragedies it spawns.
Teenager Isabel Jimenez (Yohana Cobo) narrates the background to the events we see. Since the break-up between Luciana Fuentes (Victoria Abril) and Isabel’s uncle, Amadeo Jimenez (Juan Sanz), a feud between the families has been brewing, complicated by issues of land rights. The mentally unstable Jeronimo Fuentes (Ramon Fontsere) kills Amadeo and is sent to jail; on his release, he tries to stab Isabel’s father, butcher Jose (Jose Garcia) and is locked up again.
Jeronimo’s death in jail, together with the death of his mother when the family house is burned down (presumably by a Jimenez), provoke the remaining members of the Fuentes family into revenge. We have Jeronimo’s brothers, Antonio (Juan Diego) and Emilio (Jose Luis Gomez), and sisters, Luciana, now an older woman, and Angela (Ana Wagener). The four move to a nearby village, where they start to fester as the Jimenez family is doing its best to live a normal life: Jose is married to Carmen (Eulalia Ramon) and, apart from Isabel, they have two other daughters, Antonia (Irene Escolar) and Encarnacion (Alejandra Lozano). Like Isabel, they’re innocent of the family rivalry that threatens their happiness. Isabel, with the help of her boyfriend Chino (Oriol Vila), sets about figuring out the truth. He is helped by village idiot El Tonto (Carlos Hipolito), who claims to have seen her father setting the Fuentes house on fire.
With what later turns out to be tragic irony, Jose contemplates leaving the pueblo but eventually realize it won’t be financially possible. Meanwhile, in a nearby farmhouse, revenge is brewing as the Fuentes brothers are in social and psychological isolation.
There is an airy freshness to the Jimenez girls — all laughter and pale, fluttering dresses — and the grimness of the Fuentes quartet, surrounded by darkness, unkempt, tough-skinned, wearing coarse cloth and driven by bitterness about the past rather than hope for the future. The tragic showdown between these two worlds, in the village square, is a visual tour de force, both moving and shocking. We move nimbly between families and time frames in order to show the broader background via brief glimpses of village life. The performances are excellent all around.
Director Carlos Saura brings his full visual powers to this astonishing true story of a family feud that lasted some 30 years and nearly destroyed a village in 1990. The sun-drenched cinematography strikingly captures the colors and textures of the agricultural community while hinting at the revenge festering beneath the surface. As usual, Saura’s characters break into song frequently; it’s not a musical, but it beautifully shows how important music is in everyday Spanish culture, vividly demonstrating their energy and passions.
The screenplay builds the tension to almost unbearable levels of all-consuming bitterness, while normal life continues as well. Even though the Fuentes family is the villain here (from Isabel’s point of view), even their rough existence gets some sympathy, they’re the outcasts, so it is no wonder they become so mad.
The title refers to the day of creation when God rested, which Isabel notes is when the most horrible things happen. The film’s climax is shockingly powerful, emotional and terrifying as years of resentment and frustration boil over. While the story is involving and moving, it’s told in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way that refuses to find a lesson. It becomes our job to do so.