Revisiting similar themes that brought him international recognition, Brazilian director Alexandre Moratto’s sophomore feature “7 Prisoners” (7 Prisioneiros) is a pretty familiar tale of human trafficking. From the first frame itself, we get a gist of what is going to happen to the young men who are picked up from their beautiful country homes that offer little to no opportunities.

It is not the greed that has pushed them to pursue better things, but a sort of desperation to have a better life for themselves and their family. The young director is clearly aware of this desperation and paints it vividly and realistically in the opening sequences of his new film.

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Mateus (Christian Malheiros) is leaving his house with an ailing mother and sister because he has been offered a new job in São Paolo. Before he is shuttled to the city, the mother gifts him a brand new shirt and the sister a magazine that would hold his interest. The young boy is aware of the fact that the shirt costs a month-long of their food supplies but reluctantly accepts it as a good luck charm along with the necklaces he is asked to keep close. 


With dreams in his eyes and hope in his heart, the teenage boy along with 3 other boys soon realizes that the glimmers of the skyscrapers are still far away for him. The job expects him to do day-in-day-out work in a filthy junkyard. Their boss Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) feels like someone who hides a secrete persona that is too good to be true, and when the boys don’t receive any wages for weeks, Mateus revolts.

Only to realize that he is yet to see the menacing side of his boss. The boys try to flee the place a few times after a first cumulative attempt, but the devastating truth of them being victims of human trafficking soon dawns on them. The boys are no more workers but political prisoners and debtors of some kind of unforeseeable money that they were never made aware of in the first place.

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Now, “7 Prisoners” is a pretty familiar premise. So to keep things engaging, director Alexandre Moratto takes a more intimate approach to it. He uses the human trafficking narrative to offer and understand the survivalist strategies that its smart and headstrong protagonist applies. While Mateus’ young friends want out, he knows that if he is not smart, nothing would ever change there. They will never be set free and their debts will never end.

So, to make things work better, he decides to do what Luca wants him to do. With the progression of the film, Moratto’s lens follows and traces Mateus’ journey and the moral dilemma he has to face every now and then. The greater question always comes to the foreground but Mateus is forced to choose himself over everyone else in a situation that has him helpless. The director also dives into understanding the cyclical battle of trying to survive in a world that is aggressively unfair.


In doing so, Maratto also ends up humanizing the oppressor too. Rodrigo Santoro is exceptional as Luca. His menacing presence in equally balanced with the unfairness that class divide sets people up for. Christian Malheiros who played the lead in Moratto’s debut film is equally good, making headway for this lean but familiar drama to become more than what it actually is. 

However, the real heavy lifting is done by director Alexandre Moratto who has a clear eye for details. More than anything, “7 Prisoners” is an honest drama about human trafficking and the cyclic nature of its psychological traumas. The coming-of-age arc at the center of the film offers no respite for its protagonist; who seems to be going from one hell-hole to another, but the way he times up his directorial beats offers enough proof that he is a talent to look forward to.


7 Prisoners is now streaming on Netflix


7 Prisoners Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
7 Prisoners Cast – Josias Duarte, Cecília Homem de Mello, Vitor Julian, Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro

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