‘En el Séptimo Día’ Review: Indie Director Jim McKay’s Deft Return

Fernando Cardona, the star of Jim McKay’s supremely confident and captivating independent feature “En el Séptimo Día” (“On the Seventh Day”), has the most hypnotic face I’ve seen on an actor in months. Cardona is handsome — bedroom eyes, chiseled smile — and in the movie his stoically sexy features are set off by a rather extreme fade haircut: shaved all the way up on the sides, but longish and combed on top, like an oil-slicked Mohawk.

In another context, you could see him as a real player, but Cardona’s José, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who works as a delivery guy in Brooklyn, doesn’t speak much English, and the image he presents is quiet, passive, and cautiously controlled. One false move could destroy everything he’s worked for. Cardona uses that stillness to express unspoken currents of fear, hope, and desire; he comes off like a boy in the body of a man who’s a very old soul. José is trying to put down roots, but that solemn statue face tells you he’s already more rooted than anyone around him.

The words “independent film” can mean a hundred different things, but there was a time when they really just meant one thing: an earnest, no-budget, plainly shot movie with a droopy-dog rhythm that told the story of the sort of “ordinary people” who were miles away from the radar of mainstream movies. For a long time, the genre was so shoestring that a lot of indie features we think of as landmarks — John Cassavetes’ “Shadows,” John Sayles’ “Return of the Secaucus 7,” Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” — had a humanity that was far greater than their utilitarian film technique; that was part of their no-frills neorealist aura.

McKay, who has made a handful of eloquent indie dramas, notably “Girls Town” (1996) and “Our Song” (2000), is a filmmaker who works very much in that tradition. But because he decided that he wanted to make a living, he has spent the last 13 years…

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