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D: Jorge Michel Grau / 94m

Cast: Demián Bichir, Héctor Bonilla, Óscar Serrano, Azalia Ortiz, Octavio Michel Grau, Carmen Beato

On the morning of 19 September 1985, the staff at an office building in Mexico City begin arriving for work. Already there is the building’s caretaker, Martin Soriano (Bonilla), who is waiting to go home having been there overnight. As he waits, the building becomes busier and busier, with cleaners and maintenance workers getting on with their tasks while people who work in the various offices arrive and chat at the beginning of their day. It’s an average Thursday, until at 7:19 am precisely, an earthquake registering 8.0 on the Richter Scale hits the seven storey building and brings it crumbling to the ground. Once the debris has settled, there are survivors, but they’re trapped beneath tons of rubble. There’s Dr Fernando Pellicer (Bichir), who’s a lawyer as well as a doctor, and who’s legs are trapped. He discovers a flashlight that’s just within reach. When he turns it on, he finds that Martin is trapped several feet away. As time passes, other survivors in other parts of the rubble make themselves known, and as they wait to be rescued, they all try to keep each other from despairing or losing hope…

In terms of its timing, this shortlisted entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards (it wasn’t selected), appears to be a movie that’s arrived at too far a remove from the original event to make much of an impact. It’s a simple, straightforward movie as well, devoid of any major special effects sequences – the earthquake itself is depicted from within the lobby of the building, and is effectively handled if brief – and focusing on Pellicer and Martin as they struggle to maintain their composure and their strength while trapped under a building that has collapsed on top of them. Anyone familiar with Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) will recognise the basic set up, as Bichir and Serrano (until very late on), are the only people we can see. We hear others, and one character has a radio that keeps everyone in touch with what’s happened and what is happening, but otherwise this is a two-man show. As the beleaguered pair, Bichir and Serrano acquit themselves well, and display mixed feelings of courage and fear that highlight the uncertainty of their situation. For them, every shudder and shift of the debris around them could mean a crushing death.

With the decision made to concentrate on Pellicer and Martin, Grau and co-scripter Alberto Chimal opt for a visual conceit post-quake to emphasise the horrible nature of their circumstances. The frame is reduced considerably, almost to an Academy ratio, as we focus closely on Pellicer. As he comes to terms with his plight, so the screen widens and expands to encompass the two men and the apparent unlikelihood of their being rescued. It’s a move designed to put the audience in the thick of things, to help them feel as helpless as the characters, but it’s also oddly distracting, a visual motif that keeps you watching for the changes in scope rather than the inevitable issues that Martin has with Pellicer. Grau switches back and forth between the two men in an unfussy, severe style that plays down the chances of any visual flourishes, and the disembodied voices, along with a number of distinct sound effects, illustrate the range of emotions felt by those who have been trapped. There’s little in the way of subtext or broader social themes, just a no frills, stripped back exploration of the will to survive against overwhelming odds in a seemingly impossible situation.

Rating: 7/10 – simply told, and with a minimum of artifice or glamour, 7:19 is a sobering, grimly effective story of quiet heroism and strength in adversity; dour for the most part – but deliberately so – this doesn’t always carry the emotional wallop that might be expected, but it is a finely tuned, true-to-life drama nevertheless.

NOTE: Alas, there isn’t a trailer with English subtitles available for 7:19.

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