Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2024 7:35 am 
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RADICAL (Christopher Zalla)


An engaging outlier in last year's 'best foreign' list

On my pre-Oscars Filmleaf "Awards" thread I listed "a best international list." It was:

JAEWAN (India)
RADICAL (Mexico)

This omits the other French fave by the way, THE TASTE OF THINGS.

Well, I still have not found JAEWAN or cracked SOCIETY OF THE SNOW, but now I have seen Christopher Zalla's crowd-pleasing charismatic teacher uplift movie, RADICAL. Here's my journal entry, somewhat expanded:

Finished Radical by Mexican director Christopher Zalla, a schoolteacher uplift film (shit border town of Matamoros, 2012, based on a true story) with, as Sergio, the eccentric, self-effacing teacher, Eugenio Derbez, one of the best actors in Latin America today. It's ironic that a story about how it's important to break the rules and inspire kids to think for themselves winds up showing how a ghetto teacher drew exceptionally high test scores by inspiring his 6th grade students of a low-to-terrible scoring school. But it makes sense too that for the best scores students have to learn to think, I guess. I have a resentment: they took from us Nico (Danilo Guardiola Escobar), my favorite character, the skinny, "pretty" boy who falls for the genius girl, Paloma (Jennifer Trejo), who in real life was a genius, enough to receive a special study grant that enabled her to continue her education elsewhere. This environment is too scary and violent as well as poor to nurture, or be safe for, smart kids.

Because of the scary, violent, almost too realistically filmed location - and the horrifying disappearance of Nico - it was hard to feel the uplift or shed the tears of joy and I found the success of Sergio's "radical" teaching methods a little bit implausible, but if you are a sucker for feel-good flicks about special, inspiring teachers, and can spare two hours, this is certainly worthwhile and is available on many platforms and you owe it to yourself to watch it some time. Derbez gives an all-out performance, while the kids are pleasingly low key and natural, never over-directed.

Despite the solid 70% on Metacritic, it feels like the reviews constantly condemn this film, even a little implausibly given its extreme Matamoros locale and the teacher's over-the-top-weird teaching approach, as "standard template," "utterly conventional," etc. I think they are being knee-jerk, they are the ones being conventional, in jumping to so-brand it, though one can also see their point, nonetheless: this is a standard genre. This is just a rather offbeat version of it. Let's focus on what's good about it: the true story, the good acting - and let's not forget the engaging bro' relationship that grows up between Sergio and the big heavyset school principal, Chucho (a laid-back Daniel Haddad), and the natural chemistry between these two actors.

Radical, 125 mins., debuted Sundance winning the 2023 Festival Favorite Award. Also Sydney, Guadalajara, Leiden. US release limited Nov. 3, 2023, internet Nov. 25. Metacritic: 70%. Available online on 7+ platforms.

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