The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - SOCRATES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - SOCRATES

socrates review
A teenager struggles with a tough home life while exploring his sexuality.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Alexandre Moratto

Starring: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Caio Martinez Pacheco, Rosane Paulo, Jayme Rodrigues

socrates poster

Socrates, a Brazilian social realism drama depicting the gloomy fate of its 15-year-old titular character as he negotiates his sexuality and social situation, opens with a portentous title card explaining how the film was "produced by a crew of 16-20-year-olds" as part of a "Unicef supported project" put together to "provide social inclusion through film-making to teenagers of low-income households in in the Santista region of São Paulo." What a fantastic enterprise, I am sure that you will agree. You can’t knock Unicef. However, the cynic in me regretted that this information anchored the viewing experience. It is as if the film is managing our expectations, and setting itself up as a charitable endeavour, instead of what it actually is: an incredible achievement by any merit, a raw and unsentimental essay on grief, sexuality and disadvantage seen through the wide eyes of a child. They should have put the disclaimer at the end instead, as a jaw dropping epilogue to this brave and bleak treasure.

socrates review

We open with the death of Socrates’ mum: the camera focussed on her unresponsive face as Socrates (Christian Malheiros) shakes her just off camera, his voice increasing in desperation as it becomes clear that his mother isn’t going to wake up. Socrates’ characteristically pitiless verité is established with immediacy in this scene. We don’t see Socrate’s grief, but my God we feel it as the mise-en-scene manipulates the viewer into plaintive identification. However, Socrates, and the film itself, has no time to mope about. We’re in the slums of São Paulo here, papi. With his dad estranged, Socrates is now an orphan. An orphan with bills and responsibilities. There is no time to grieve. Instead, Socrates is out and about pretending to his mother’s boss (she worked as a hotel maid) that she is ill so he can cover her shifts, and looking for further work wherever it’s going. This on top of battling the bureaucracy which administers the funeral of his mother. The body isn’t even cold yet: we’re at the very edge of desperation here.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Les Misérables ]

Writer/director Alexandre Moratto’s (co-writing with Thayná Mantesso) storytelling is unfussy but impactful. The unloved ghettos of the city are bleakly vivid, and their implied menace is undeniable. I am presuming that the cast are amateur or at least unseasoned: you wouldn’t tell though, as Socrates rings with a stinging authenticity.

socrates review

As part of his ongoing hustle, Socrates gets into a bit of a scrap with another, slightly older, lad, Maicon (Tales Ordakji, ludicrously beautiful). Almost every time when two young men start a fight over seemingly nothing, it turns out to be a struggle against something interior, the aggression and bluster fearfully flaring up to disguise inconvenient, unresolved emotion. This is no exception. It turns out that Socrates and Maicon are in the gays, and within a couple of scenes are all over each other with chemistry that is as charming as it is convincing. Brazil criminalised homophobia literally two months ago (June 2019!), and, at the time of writing, there have been over 100 LGBT related deaths in the country this year. Sobering and terrifying. It’s no wonder that our boys - with Socrates enjoying the love and affection denied him by the death of his mother and the conditioned bigotry of his father - have to hide their love away. Problem is, as the film continues, the shadowed depths of Maicon’s closet are poignantly brought to light…

socrates review

Socrates isn’t anyone’s idea of a feelgood film, and necessarily so. The plot follows an inevitable trajectory into open-ended despair, the only course it could follow, as the options for poor Socrates are severely limited. Which is why Socrates and its context of purposeful altruism are given a further sheen of greatness by the polished pursuance of its achievements. How many potential future Socrates have been given a lifeline by this project, a sense of dignity and purpose through contribution to such a powerful work? There have been many films which portray disadvantage in order to harvest ready-made drama, but rarely are they as effective, and affecting, as Socrates is. A film that gives back more than it takes.

Socrates is in UK cinemas and VOD from September 4th.