In an era when the “greatness” of a film is often judged by its budget, sophisticated CGI animation and eye-popping stunts, many lose touch of the ability to appreciate storytelling through the spoken word. There are far too few in blockbusters like Avengers: Inifnity War and what little there is can hardly be considered memorable. When I come across a film where the spoken word takes center stage, I am mesmerized. And when the dialogues are as well-written and as rivetingly-delivered as they are in 7 Años, I feel hopeful. Film can still be art. Screw Avengers and its ilk.
7 Años is a story about four friends who founded a tech company that made them millionaires. But mismanagement led to an investigation for tax fraud and, to keep the company going, they must decide which one should take the fall — go to prison for seven years and allow the others to go scot-free to continue running the company and keep it profitable. To make an objective decision, they hire a mediator to help keep the decision-making on a professional level and prevent the discussion from spiraling into an emotional free fall.
It is a reasonable plan from a business point of view. They begin with the Finance Officer explaining where the tax fraud began — with a feeling of injustice. She’s a business person who spent so much time working that she didn’t even have time for her family. And for what? So that the state could take 56% of her income in the form of taxes? And it’s not like things go so well with how government spent taxpayers’ money… So, it began. Being loose with the accounting at first until the hidden income got bigger and bigger.
They all benefitted from the scheme. But now that the government is after them and likely to find the “black” money stashed away in Switzerland, who’s going to give himself away to veer the investigation away from the others? Who is the most dispensable — the CEO/strategist, the Finance Officer, the one in charge of sales or the tech wiz who invented the products that the company sells?
After much argument, they agree that no one was more dispensable than the other three. So, they shift the discussion to who would have it easiest in prison? Veronica, the only female among the partners, is named by the three male partners as the one who would suffer least in prison. Veronica is aghast.
It’s quite brilliant how the dialogues seamlessly bring out bigger and more serious issues like taxpayer’s burden, misogyny and the folly of the penal system. But, at that point, the discussion is still leaning more toward the rational side. Not for long though. These four founders aren’t just business partners. Some of them go back a long way. And how they dredge up past personal relationships — tangled with gratitude, betrayal and sex — to pinpoint who is the worst among them that deserve to go to prison for the others is what makes the film both a thriller and a drama.
7 Años could have been played on stage and it would have been magnificent. The production design is simple enough — a high-ceiling space that looks like a warehouse that had been converted into a huge conference room. Lighting is muted with lights and shadows seemingly echoing the emotional highs and lows that the characters go through as the story unfolds.
But it is the monologues and the dialogues, and the sparse but well-choreographed movements of the characters as they speak, that glue the viewer to the screen. You focus because you don’t want to miss a thing — not a word, not a flicker of the eye, not a twitch of the face, not a change in demeanor as the process of making one business decision turns into an occasion for hurling recriminations and the violent release of long buried animosities. It is quite heartbreaking.
Viewers who have grown up with violence in films — viewers who have been de-sensitized by violence in films — might be surprised at how words alone, without blood and gore, can convey as much violence. If you think that a scene where a man or a woman shoots, slashes and maims others in a desperate bid to survive, you should hear the words uttered by the characters in 7 Años. Brilliant — brilliant! — screenplay writing.