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‘Radical’ Will Leave You Speechless

Understand the Struggles of the Mexican Education System
‘Radical’ is a true story about the upbringing of Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary.
Rating: A
Art Courtesy of 3Pas Studios

It’s a regular school day at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary. Students sit at their metal desks, swat at flies, and tune out the sound of gunshots coming not far from their school. In the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, there is no escape from poverty and violence.

Radical” a film by Christopher Zalla, is based on the true story of Sergio Juárez Correa, a school teacher who reset the culture of the neglected school with his unprecedented teaching methods. 

What initially drew me closer to the film was the actor Eugenio Derbez. I grew up watching him perform in movies like the 2018 remake of “Overboardor “How to Be a Latin Lover” and my mother often mentions the show “La Familia P. Luche,” where Derbez stars in a key role. Overall, both his comedic and serious roles left a resonating influence on my childhood. I was excited to see what character he would portray next.

Being a first-generation Mexican-American, I have heard of the horrible regions in Mexico where poverty and crime are prevalent issues. “Radical” portrays the dangerous aspect well, defeating the typical “luxurious vacation” stereotype the country has. The main child characters live with some sort of issue. Nico, a schoolboy from Northern Mexico, lives in a house with broken walls, with no parents, and a brother who is involved in suspicious work. Paloma, based on a real person, resides next to a landfill with no front door, and a father who is sick. Lupe, their classmate, acts like a mother for her younger siblings, as her mom is busy with work. 

Sergio’s first appearance occurs in the classroom, as he sits atop a flipped table, telling his students that the floor is water and they all need to get on a table to not drown. This scene is very impactful as a student who learns better when a teacher is dedicated to their job. I found myself admiring his bravery to step out of his professional title and embarrass himself a little for the benefit of the students. As suspected all the students questioned his methods, but later followed suit and enjoyed the classes he gave.  

“Grades don’t matter,” and “I’m not going to decide what you’re going to learn,” is what Sergio told his students from the start. The best part of this film was seeing the hope develop in each of the characters. Nico, a student who at first didn’t plan on attending school for long and wanted to go work with his brother, started developing a genuine passion for learning. Notably, he was applauded every time he would disrupt the class.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the film was seeing the lack of resources these children had. They needed more money, better living conditions and support to have a better future. Christopher Zalla, the director of the film, illustrated the circumstances spectacularly. As Derbez spoke, a fly could be heard in the background of his lines. It was distracting— which is the point. Similarly, car honks and at times the “boom” of a firearm disrupted the regular flow of dialogue. Each actor was able to bring the emotions to life as they rendered tears, fear and disappointment through death and discouragement. 

The blue and beige color scheme of the film made it seem grim and dull. Along with this, a slower version of “Espacio Sideral” by Jesse and Joy (usually an upbeat song) was played during the trailer, adding a sorrowful frame of mind to the storyline. Although minor details, it caught my attention on an emotional level. 

The story ended with Paloma scoring a 921 on the ENLACE standardized test, which was the maximum and highest score in the entire nation of Mexico. This was possible through Sergio, who convinced his students that they had the potential to make it far, despite their expected life of hardship. Seeing how this was a true story, the cheerful ending was satisfying; I left the theater feeling content and grateful for my educational opportunities.

I have no complaints for this movie. It has since been my favorite movie. The film accurately depicts the painful realities of the Mexican education system that my family has told me since I was young. The world needs more movies like “Radical” to educate the public and promote awareness on issues that need to be addressed.

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