Sundance Film Festival review ‘Radical’: Eugenio Derbez back in the classroom in an inspiring true story

The last time Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez had a movie on Sundance in 2021. The film was coda, and not only swept all the jackpots at that year’s festival, he went on to win three Oscars included best image. He had a supporting role in that movie as an inspiring high school music teacher, and now in Radical, Just having its Sundance world premiere on opening night at the Eccles Theatre, rehearses another inspiring master. This time it is a true story and in which he plays the main role of Sergio Juárez.

Juárez (full name Sergio Juárez Correa) was the subject of a cabling Josh Davis magazine article detailing his incredible story as an unorthodox teacher in a poor Mexican border town called Matamoros. It is a poor forgotten town with little hope for its children, particularly in elementary school, where he uses a teaching method that he stumbled upon watching a TED Talks video in which students lead the curriculum to learn what to wish to learn, not what officials dictate through tests and other methods. Derbez takes on the role and scales back the comedic persona for which he is now so beloved, not just in Mexico but around the world. Like in coda, it throws away any hint of that and demonstrates some great dramatic talent that brings this man and his story to life.

Yes, we have seen dozens of inspirational teacher movies in the past, from Goodbye Mr. Chips Y To the Lord, with love a Conrack, The Marva Collins Story, Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, Lean on Me and countless others. Yet this virtually unknown little story of a man determined to unlock the human potential of children who will likely never outgrow the circumstances of their birthplace is unique and special within its surroundings, using improvisational techniques and an understated visual style. and gritty in which the viewer is treated almost like another student in the class, writer-director Christopher Zalla makes a triumphant return to Sundance 16 years after winning the Grand Prix here for his first film, 2007. our fatherwhich also included Derbez.

After setting the To the Lord, with love nature of this school, and the children of the sixth grade class, we know Sergio. He has overturned all the desks in his classroom and welcomes the incredulous looks from his new students as he tries to convince them to come aboard these “lifeboats” in the imaginary ocean for the kind of wacky lesson they have. never found before. We soon see that his madness has a method, but he must battle other teachers, his principal, and eventually the district principal who question the wisdom of what he is doing. Along the way, the focus is on a number of kids, mostly newcomers to acting, having their moment in the sun, particularly their top discovery, Paloma (a gorgeous Jennifer Trejo), who, despite Despite poor living conditions, she endures and the barely surviving migrant father shows remarkable aptitude under Sergio’s tutelage as a budding rocket scientist. She is also based on a real person, and that story is even more amazing. There are others like Nico in love, Lupe (an excellent Mia Fernanda Solis) and more who are also challenged by the dark world of cartels and thugs around them, but still thrive in light of Sergio’s belief.

The Spanish-language film doesn’t sugarcoat his story or the difficulties along the way, including a nervous breakdown when Sergio is suspended for refusing to teach the required “test” for students at the school. You can almost smell the dirt of this dead-end corner of the world, the promise of America across the ocean, but more importantly the promises of inspiring teachers like Sergio helping to lift them out and lead them to a better life. Derbez has never been better than in this film, one that is for sale and, if there is any justice, will be snapped up by a distributor looking for a true feel-good story with real potential to make a difference.

Derbez produces through his 3Pas Studios along with co-founder Ben Odell and Davis. Film Sales Corp is the sales agent.

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