Director: Christopher Zalla
Starring: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad, Jennifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, Danilo Guardiola Escobar
Distributor: Madman films
Runtime: 125 mins. Reviewed in May 2024
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes and coarse language

A teacher in a Mexican border town full of neglect, corruption and violence tries a radical new method to unlock their students’ curiosity, potential – and maybe even their genius.

Potential? Recognising potential, encouraging opportunities, creativity? Radical is a film about education. It is set in a Mexican town, 2011. The screenplay is based on an article in Wired, by Joshua Davis ‘A radical way of unleashing a generation of geniuses’. The article was based on a teacher’s experiences in 2011. Audiences will perhaps be reminded of creative education movies they have appreciated in the past – the personal touch with To Sir, With Love, or the creativity of Dead Poets Society.

The action is situated in a poor and undeveloped seaside Mexican town. Mothers work night shifts, a father earns his living by fossicking in a mountainous rubbish tip, dead bodies on the streets… This is the background for the children who go to the local school. The principal is frustrated, the school has some of the lowest assessments in the annual tests, a disgruntled staff who are ready to cheat by getting the tests early and rigging the results, corruption in local city offices, promises of computers that are never delivered…

Then comes the new teacher, Sergio (Deberz), full of creative vitality. He has worked in the system, becoming disillusioned with students not appreciating their education, determined to find creative ways, especially for the top year in primary school.

We, the audience, are immersed in his methods, perhaps sharing the initial stunned silence of the young students who really do not know what he is asking of them, but gradually responding. He asks questions, experiments with classroom seating or goes into the schoolyard to test their ideas. The initial question concerns flotation, density and weight (perhaps a challenge to many of us in the audience). We see Sergio’s experiential way of learning means that the knowledge is personalised.

Sergio’s zest for education is communicated to the principal who becomes more and more sympathetic. The screenplay highlights three of the students, Paloma (Trejo), who helps her widowed father collect metal scraps but who has a love for physics and astronomy and that keyword: potential. There is Nico (Escobar), forced by his brother to be a drug courier, even at school, low self-esteem, encouraged by Sergio, discovering a love for learning, and a terrible dilemma in facing the gang. There is also Lupe (Solis), whose parents work night shifts, leaving her to care for the two younger children and manage the household. Sergio responds to one observation by mentioning the word philosophy which sends her to libraries, and her discovery of a love of reading, of thinking through moral issues.

Most audiences have found the film positive, heartwarming, hopeful – and some dissenters who are wary of sentiment and are keen to label this kind of film as kitsch. But, Radical, based on a true story, is definitely a film for most audiences.

12 Random Films…



Scroll to Top