Bolstered by a magnetic central performance from first-time actor Christian Malheiros, Sócrates is an intimate and passionate film with plenty of heart, showcasing debut director Alexandre Moratto’s talent and what can be achieved on a very small budget.
It follows the eponymous Sócrates (Malheiros), a 15-year-old boy whose mother dies suddenly and whose life begins to unravel as a result, leaving him unable to pay the rent on their apartment in São Paulo and desperate for any work that might get him back on his feet again amidst his grief at her loss. His journey towards self-sustainability is an exceptionally rocky one that sees him travelling the area attempting to make ends meet and using any connection he has to buy himself more time, and there’s a continuous sense of urgency throughout its short 71-minute runtime as his desperation increases. As well as his terrible financial situation, Sócrates has to come to terms with callous and uncaring bureaucracy surrounding his mother’s death and frequent homophobia from both wider society and family members in response to his sexual orientation, an aspect of his life that the film explores through a relationship with a man named Maicon (Tales Orkadji).
It is a bleak picture, and one that could have stumbled had it not been for Malheiros’ performance, which is magnetic from the very beginning. He has a gravitas on-screen that belies his lack of film experience, and he makes the most of a very demanding role, delivering a performance that makes Sócrates thoroughly believable, adding a sense of connection for the audience that ensures the film resonates all the more.
Filmed using a budget of only $20,000 with a cast formed largely of debutant actors and funding from UNICEF to incorporate a film crew largely made up of young people, the film’s naturalistic feel evokes the spirit of Cinema Novo, the Brazilian film movement inspired by Italian Neo-Realism that had its pomp in the 1960s. That stripped back, bare sensibility together with its unforgiving focus on Sócrates’ struggle as he tries to make a better life for himself recalls that spirit with aplomb and Moratto (who co-wrote the script with Thayná Mantesso) lets his actors tell the story, keeping it light on the film-making frills and foregrounding what is important. It can at times feel a little creaky as a result, but its shoestring budget must be accounted for and often those moments add to the film’s general atmosphere, enhancing the air of sincerity it works so hard to build.
There is a slight sense however that there could be more, that perhaps there is more to dig in to, but what there is here is definitely worthwhile, and Sócrates’ sheer resilience is both admirable in the sense that he fights every injustice that the world moves into his path with determination, and lamentable in that obviously someone of his age should never have to suffer such hardship and agony. That misery is palpable throughout, and it can be a hard watch at times, but the film isn’t just about that, it’s about his strength, his humanity and the dual heroism and tragedy of his resilience, all of which would never have come across anywhere near as well without Malheiros, upon whose back this film is built. It will be interesting to see what Moratto makes with a slightly bigger budget and more of an opportunity to stretch his creative wings, but on this showing, there is plenty to look forward to.
Dir: Alexandre Moratto
Scr: Thayná Mantesso, Alexandre Moratto
Cast: Christian Malheiros, Tales Orkadji, Rosane Paulo, Jayme Rodrigues
Prd: Ramin Bahrani, Alexandre Moratto, Fernando Meirelles, Tammy Weiss, Jefferson Paulino
DOP: João Gabriel de Queiroz
Music: Tiago Abrahão, Felipe Puperi
Run time: 71 minutes
Sócrates is out now