Starring: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Jayme Rodrigues, Vanessa Santana
Director: Alexandre Moratto
In 2018, debut director Alexandre Moratto approached the Instituto Querô in São Paulo, a UNICEF-sponsored organization for at-risk teenagers, to form a crew for his movie of 16-20 year-olds from impoverished neighbourhoods. Casting unknown actors as his leads, the result is Socrates, a striking piece of neo-realism that has become one of the standout LGBT+ movies of the year and earned its director the “Someone To Watch” accolade at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Socrates (Malheiros) is fifteen years old and living on the breadline in a São Paulo suburb. The film opens with a shot of him discovering his mother’s body, who has been ill for some time. They lived alone, but Socrates decides not to tell anyone about his mother’s death and to try to cover for her at work and earn wages in her place. But as his landlady demands money and people from all angles take advantage of his youth, he is forced to go to extreme measures to survive. He also meets Maicon (Ordakji), a handsome young man that he falls for hard, but whose reaction to homophobia on the street sparks a self-loathing that he didn’t have in private.
Christian Malheiros is outstanding in the titular role. There is a steely resolve settled on his face as he ploughs through his immediate needs; money, food and a roof over his head. There is no time for him to grieve, but in moments of stillness we see the gravity of his situation and the loss he feels so deeply but cannot afford to show. As his romance with Maicon blossoms we know that there is an element of necessity to it; he needs somewhere to stay. Whatever he feels, it has to come secondary to his needs.
This is a stark commentary on the system too. Over and over he is let-down by employers that will not take on someone under eighteen, but he has to earn money to survive. When he tries to trick the system to work in his favour, he is simply exploited by employers in return. And social workers want him to reconnect with his father, which he simply doesn’t want to do. Malheiros imbues such dignified gravitas to Socrates that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is a fifteen year old boy.
Narratively, this is short but concise, squeezing an impactful character arc into its brief 70 minute run-time. It covers a lot of ground, with plenty of space for the character to breathe without ever dragging its feet. As a result, this is a masterful character-study that sees Socrates fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of his misfortune.
The film even has the time to revel in luscious cinematography, feeling more akin to Moonlight than Beach Rats, both of which bear much similarity here. Despite all of his misery, we see the beauty of the stunning Brazilian beaches and take the time to witness the blossoming of his first love. This collision of beautiful aesthetics and ugly reality make for a fascinating dichotomy that sits at the heart of this film; behind Brazil’s glossy veneer is, unfortunately, an ugly truth. Because for all that we can see Socrates is a beautiful person, he will be ruined – and is already being ruined – by the society he was born into.
OUT ON 4TH SEPTEMBER IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND, RELEASED BY PECCADILLO PICTURES. Click here to for more info.