Class 15

By Dean Leon Anderson | Drama
A teacher meets a troubled student's mother -- and it descends into chaos.

Years ago, Zahra became a single mom when her husband left her, leaving her behind with her young daughter Alicia. That little girl has grown up into a troubled young woman, and though Zahra has settled into her life, her daughter still harbors rage and sadness at their broken family.

Zahra knows her daughter is in trouble, but the seriousness of her situation is made clear during an initially cordial parent-teacher conference. The teacher makes no bones about Alicia's struggles, along with his exasperation with Alicia. But as chaos descends upon the conversation, accusations are tossed out -- and certain truths come to the surface.

Written and directed by Dean Leon Anderson, this compelling short family drama tracks the chain of familial trauma, as one family's separation and break leaves its mark on its youngest members, even years later. Though a parent's mistakes happened in the past, they still must reckon with them, as they watch their fallout continue to reverberate.

After a brief glimpse of a tense moment in the present, the film begins with a family trauma's point of origin, as a father takes leave of his wife, in a blaze of anger, recrimination and rage. It's a raw, emotional scene, made all the more poignant with the presence of a tiny young girl at the margins of it all. Heartwrenching and searing, the opening leaves an impact on both character and viewers, even when we jump ahead in time. Years later, Zahra has changed, from her appearance to the air of anxious responsibility that she brings into a parent-teacher conference. And as the charged dialogue charts, Alicia has changed as well, into a teenager full of rebellion and anger.

The storytelling features a deceptively calm naturalism and a carefully constructed narrative that pays close, nuanced attention to character. But the film's anchor is a powerful performance from Sharon Duncan-Brewster. Currently seen in a pivotal role in the feature film Dune, even in a short narrative format, she ably captures a character's changes between two points in time. She seems more serious, but there is also an underlayer of defensiveness. Between Alicia's provocations, her latent sense of shame and the teacher's harshness, the conference becomes a volatile emotional powderkeg -- one whose explosion unleashes surprising revelations that destabilize the fragile foundation of Zahra's family.

The foundation of Zahra and Alicia's relationship as a family falls apart during the emotionally explosive events of "Class 15," pulling the film into a truly unexpected direction for all characters. But in the disintegration, Zahra finds a kind of freedom -- one that allows her to speak her mind about the world stacked up against her and also about her past, with all its mistakes and misjudgments. The truth in all its thorniness is revealed, but she is relieved of her burden of keeping it hidden inside, along with her voice and her power.

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