There’s a strikingly realistic tone to this Brazilian drama, pulling the audience into the experiences of a teen who is being squeezed in from all sides. Socrates was created in a workshop of young people between the ages of 16 and 20, and it’s the feature debut of Brazilian-American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto. Screening at BFI Flare, the film has been winning awards at festivals around the world, including Miami, Woodstock, Thessaloniki and three festivals across Brazil.
Socrates (played by Christian Malheiros) is a 15-year-old living in a poor Sao Paulo suburb with his mother. When she dies, he discovers how powerless he really is: he isn’t even allowed to collect her ashes. He can’t turn to his estranged father (Jayme Rodrigues) for help, because he’s harshly religious and has rejected Socrates for being gay. So Socrates tries to get on with life, finding a job in a local junkyard. There he meets Maicon (Tales Ordjaki), and they begin a tender romance. But their hot tempers, as well as some other outside circumstances, make this relationship increasingly difficult. And Socrates is going to need to grow up quickly if he hopes to have a future.
The script (by Moratto and Thayná Mantesso) is careful to point out that Socrates could get help from a persistent social worker if he would accept it. But Socrates instead tries to do things on his own, even though everyone he turns to abandons him, leaving him to consider unthinkable options like prostitution or suicide. Thankfully, the film remains earthy and honest about even these things, focusing tightly on Socrates’ internal thoughts and feelings rather than the bigger political themes. There’s no overt plot structure here, as the narrative traces this young man’s emotional journey into manhood.
Malheiros is superb in the role, delivering an expressive performance that reveals the characters’ inner feelings to the movie audience but not to the people around him on-screen. The way he conceals himself from everyone is both moving and a little scary, because he is a teen dealing with very grown-up issues essentially all by himself. Each knock-back is agonising to watch. Scenes with Rodrigues are painful, because it’s clear that his father’s love is so conditional. And Malheiros and Ordjaki find a range of powerful textures as they play out the relationship between Socrates and Maicon. It starts with a brawl and remains rough-edged even in moments of tenderness.
Because the film is so intimate, Moratto never moralises about any of the decisions Socrates makes or actions he takes. By using up-close camerawork, the viewer is right with Socrates all the way through his odyssey of self-discovery. It’s not a remotely easy path, and watching this young man battle against such a frightening range of obstacles is darkly moving. But this brings to light some big social issues that are rarely depicted in such powerfully honest ways on-screen. It’s a pointed reminder that most people are struggling and afraid to ask for the help they need.