From its arresting opening scene – in which its protagonist finds his mother dead on her bed – Sócrates grips the viewer by the neck and doesn’t let go. Alexandre Moratto’s first feature is a harrowing portrait of robbed youth not suited for the faint of heart. Anchored by a powerful performance by Christian Malheiros, the film should strike a chord with audiences who like their entertainment with high doses of realism.
The title character is a 15-year-old boy who lives in the outskirts of a major port town in Southeastern Brazil and who finds himself penniless and threatened with eviction following his mother’s sudden death. Some people have to fight off grave dangers in their lives, but as far as metaphors go, Sócrates isn’t just on a treacherous road; he’s surrounded by snipers in an open minefield.
The action of the film seems to take place in the course of a few days. Our lead has to find a way to retrieve his mother’s ashes all the while concealing her death from her employers. He needs to find a job immediately in order to pay his rent. He must avoid the security service people, who are trying to place him in the hands of his estranged and abusive father. And in the middle of all this, he ought to cope with his attraction to Maicon (Tales Ordakji), someone he meets during a short work stint.
Malheiros is superb in the lead – all the more impressive considering that this is his screen debut. As he contemplates his situation, he takes it all in with weary eyes which speak volumes about the injustices with which he’s grappling. Black gay men from an poor background are rarely portrayed in Brazilian fiction.
Moratto’s script, co-written with Thayná Mantesso, is clever enough to focus the story on Sócrates’s experience, while also leaving plenty of sidenotes for the attentive viewer to unpack. Notice, for instance, the racial power dynamics at play between the main character and his bosses, all of whom are white – as is the pervert he meets in an unnerving scene.
Similarly to João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa’s Araby, Sócrates is focused on the invisible members of society. Unlike the 2017 film, it does not seek poetic transcendence in their dysfunctional lives. With the help of director of photography João Gabriel de Queiroz, the filmmaker follows the main character around with closely placed handheld cameras, rendering his life with an anxiety-inducing energy which brings the Safdie brothers to mind. Ultimately, Sócrates is a tough watch, but a rewarding one.
Sócrates is out on various VoD platforms in September, including BFI Player.