With her steel-tough, relentlessly downbeat cinema direct documentary The Perfect Life, filmmaker Sam Lee - a former schoolteacher at Manhattan's unconventional Neighborhood Storefront School - revisits her inner city pupils from that institution after a ten-year absence. Lee continually intercuts footage shot during her tenure at the school, in 1992 - when the then-second graders radiated optimism and childlike idealism - with the 2002 footage. Her return yields a sobering glimpse of the students, who (as 12th graders at the time of the film's production) grapple with dreams deferred and overwhelming ambivalence about life and the value of their prospective contributions to the surrounding world. Two male students undergo skirmishes with the law, another is forced to leave the city altogether thanks to accruing with frustrations of urban life; one girl has been expelled from Catholic school and struggles with a severely dysfunctional familial environment, and another fled from her urban environment into a tough, rigid, boarding school existence, distancing herself aggressively from her origins - to name only a few of the many subjects. Lee limits her own interjections to Q&A, and carefully avoids applying value judgments to any of the adolescents, rendering this work wholly objective, impartial and observational.
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