To provide a better life for his family in the country, 18-year-old Mateus accepts a job in a junkyard in São Paulo for his new boss, Luca, but becomes trapped in the dangerous world of human trafficking.
Deep into “7 Prisoners,” the protagonist stares up at the labyrinthine electrical cables of the transformers that power the city of São Paulo. He is Mateus (Christian Malheiros), a human trafficking victim from the Brazilian countryside. He works in a filthy junkyard for long hours without pay, stripping cables for the copper that helps these very towers run. A wave of wounded anguish percolates under Mateus’s eyes, as his boss, Mr. Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) says, “Your work powers the whole city.” The camera shifts to electric train lines next to slums and the glittering skyline of the city lit up at night. Mateus’s exploitation is so profound, an entire metropolis vibrates with complicity.
It is moments like these that reveal the strengths of Alexandre Moratto’s social thriller “7 Prisoners”: Rather than being a simple examination of a social problem, the film excels at excavating the deep-rooted, sprawling violence that affects everyone living under hierarchies of power.
Mateus arrives in São Paulo with a few others from his village, in search of a better life. But they quickly realize they are cogs in a trickle-down machine of exploitation that includes Mr. Luca, the police and politicians.