Radical – movie review

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”: Albert Einstein

In Matamoros, Mexico, an idealistic teacher by the name of Sergio Jaurez Correa arrives at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary School. It’s 2012 in a neighbourhood where poverty is entrenched, crime is rampant and corruption omnipotent. In many cases, due to basic survival needs, children are dropping out of school very early. Teachers are expected to deliver a set curriculum, with a national test based on that curriculum at the end of each year.

Only Sergio (Eugenio Derbez) stirs the pot and upends conventional thinking about how to teach children and get through to them. In the process, he tests the patience and understanding of the school director (read: principal) Chuco (Daniel Haddad), gets other teachers offside and risks his career. Juarez’s philosophy is simple – get the children (he teaches grade 6) engaged, to want to learn, so they can live up to their potential. He does so by making education fun … by turning the playground into a classroom, but he hardly has things all his own way.

Radical, which is based on a true story, focuses on Correa, his passion and conviction and the impact he has on those around him. We also get a firm read on the head of the school and a handful of Correa’s 12-year-old students – three in particular. Among them is Paloma Noyola (Jennifer Trejo), quiet but whip smart. She lives with her father (Gilberto Barraza) next to a rubbish tip.  He barely manages to scrape by collecting and selling scrap metal. Paloma aspires to be an aerospace engineer, on the way to becoming an astronaut. Lupe (Mia Fernanda Solis) is the oldest child in her family and responsible for looking after her younger siblings. She has a fascination with philosophy. And then there’s Nico (Danilo Guardiola), who is destined for a life of crime, like his older brother Chepe (Victor Estrada), when his teacher turns his head.

I was deeply moved by Radical. I openly wept … several times. Fully of joy and heartache, this is a remarkable tale of fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds. While the story itself is compelling, it is undoubtedly the characters who make the film as good as it is. As the title suggests, Correa is a revolutionary of sorts, who changed the status quo and made possible what, for all intents and purposes, had been impossible.

Derbez approaches the role with humour and heart. He is such a natural, as too is the good-natured Haddad as the principal. Then there are the children; each with their distinct personalities – wide eyed and pragmatic, but who dare to dream. Sure, as the premise unfolds, I could tell that I was being manipulated to feel a certain way, but I totally bought into it. Director of photography Mateo Londono has made the most of evocative local settings.

The film is based on a 2013 article in Wired magazine by Joshua Davis, titled A Radical Way of Unleashing a Generation of Geniuses. With its superbly rendered script and fine direction from Christopher Zalla, Radical shows how one person can make a difference for the greater good.

Alex First

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