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19 September 1985 is a date to remember in the history of Mexico
. That day an earthquake that would be remembered as one of the strongest of the 20th century hit Mexico City. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed, and under their rubble 100,000 people died according to the most accurate estimates.

It was at 7:19 that the earth shook for the first time; a time that became the title of Jorge Michel Grau’s film, a director already known for his interesting horror We Are What We Are (Mexico 2010), and its remake with the same name made in the US. With 7.19 AM, the Mexican director tests himself with a claustrophobic survival drama inspired by the tragedy that hit the capital city of his country. The lawyer Fernando Pellicer finds himself trapped under the rubble of the 7-floor building where his office is located.  A beam stops him from moving, the darkness doesn’t allow him to see what’s around him and he is completely cut off from the outer world; the only thing he can do is talk to the other survivors and wait for someone to come and save them.

With this premise the script creates a pacy story, where the tension creeps up slowly and inevitably, whilst thirst and hunger wear out the characters. The device used is that of the microcosm (not new but always efficient when employed): taking a mixed group of people, coming from different class, cultural and moral backgrounds; imprison said group in a closed space and wait to see what happens. The focus of the film coincides with that of politically conscious cinema: it’s a social story that tells us of the Mexico of yesteryear as well as the Mexico of today, using audio and video frames of the time. 

Nonetheless, what makes 7.19 AM worthy of attention is the way in which Grau organizes the plot, using the tools of cinematic language to bring the audience under the rubble, trapped side by side with the characters. Just like Dolan in Mommy (France/Canada 2014), Grau plays with the frame and imprisons the lead in a tiny frame, a frame that widens in tandem with the lead’s awareness of his surroundings. Grau radically changes his directing style depending on the aspects of the story he is trying to tell: if the initial scene is a long take that unfolds in the foyer of the building just before the earthquake strikes; under the rubble the sequences are static, with the exception of a long circular panoramic take. The audience finds themselves stuck in the same surroundings of the earthquake victims, who are no longer free to move – with their exception of their heads to look around, but stuck where fate has made them fall.

7.19 AM was not distributed in Italian cinemas, but it has reached Italian soil through to Netflix where it is in Spanish and with subtitles. This could be an obstacle for some, despite the quality of the film: if making art means showcasing a cross section of reality through specific meaningful language, the Mexican director does exactly that and is able to make the audience feel the same emotions of his characters. 7:19 AM is a skillful tension-filled thriller, a successful liaison of art film and commercial film.

Francesco Cirica – Translated by Asta Diabate