The Movie Waffler Interview - SOCRATES Director Alexandre Moratto | The Movie Waffler

Interview - SOCRATES Director Alexandre Moratto

socrates movie
The Brazilian filmmaker discusses his acclaimed debut.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

After his mother's sudden death, Socrates, a 15-year-old living on the outskirts of São Paulo's coastal region, is forced to survive on his own. Unable to pay the rent he faces eviction and also isolation because of his sexuality and eventually his search for a decent, happy life reaches breaking point. This gritty, moving and intimate portrait of life in a marginalized society features wonderful performances from its non-professional cast, none more so than Christian Malheiros in the role of Socrates giving a memorable screen debut.

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

We spoke to director Alexandre Moratto about his acclaimed debut. Read our review here.

Hello Alexandre. I watched and reviewed Socrates over a year ago now, and in all sincerity I found it extremely powerful. What a treat to make contact with you, and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. My opening query is two-fold:

1). How did the initial idea for Socrates originate? Was there an initial, conscious desire to confront the social problems that exist within the margins of São Paulo, with the narrative written around this idea?

Socrates came from a moment in my life of great difficulty, surrounding my Mom's illness and death. I felt compelled to express the pain and isolation of that experience, but I didn't want to make an autobiographical film. I went back to the Unicef-supported institute where I had volunteered when I was a film student and the idea for Socrates started to come to me. It's important that my work give a voice to people who don't usually get a chance to tell their stories, and so the idea of making a film for and with these young people felt right. I realised I could tell a story that would be personal to me, and to them as well, and I believe this is what makes the film universal. 

2) How did Unicef get involved with producing yours and Thayná Mantesso’s screenplay?

A stipulation of Unicef’s support was to provide social inclusion for 16-20 year olds in the Sanista region.

Reviewing mainly independent films for The Movie Waffler I have seen a lot of content (sometimes student films, sometimes from cheerful amateurs) from brand new film-makers and the inexperience of these productions is usually clear. However, if I hadn’t read the title card that explains the provenance of Socrates I would have been none the wiser: the filmmaking is so urgent, completely confident and unflinching. I wonder if you could elaborate on this unusual production process, where I would imagine you were as much a mentor figure to the crew as director?

Thank you. I drew on my experiences as a volunteer and wrote a first draft. I presented it to the Institute as a proof of concept and proposed making the film in a workshop setting with their students, who are all from the local low-income communities. They loved the idea and we started workshopping the script with them. I was naturally drawn to Thayná Mantesso because, at just 18 years old, she had an ear for authentic dialogue and a great deal of talent. We started re-writing the script together while all the students did the heavy lifting - they went out and got us partnerships, found all the locations, and ran the set. They were guided by their mentors, who were mostly graduates from the project.

The film’s representation of sexuality is candid and convincing, and the repression to which the characters have become conditioned makes their eventual liaisons all the more powerful and thrilling. I reviewed the film in June last year, and while researching discovered that Brazil had only decriminalised homosexuality two months prior to that date. Is it too extreme to say that Socrates was filmed in a country which was still homophobic?

Brazil is interesting because on the one hand, it has been progressive toward homosexuality with the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but I also find discrepancies between legislation and cultural attitudes. It mostly depends on where you are and who you ask - it varies from city to city, neighbourhood to neighbourhood. 

Did the production experience any friction where its realisation of male sexuality was concerned?

We opted for an approach of total transparency. If an actor got a callback, we would tell them immediately that the film would involve male intimacy, and that there were no hard feelings if they'd prefer not to continue the audition process. Most of our cast ended up being trained actors so we didn't have any issues.

It is a strange time for film distribution - Socrates was completed in 2018 but is only finding exhibition in the UK this month. What has the post-production existence of Socrates been like? How has the process of finding distribution gone? Finally, how has the film been received, not just by ‘the industry’ but by audiences (I would wager that it means a great deal to certain demographics)?

It was surprising to me that a film made for 20 thousand dollars would have such a huge impact and get distribution in Brazil, the United States, the UK, Germany, France, and more. I didn't know if people would understand what I was trying to convey artistically, but it seems to have really struck a chord. My favourite artists have invariably been true to their voices and vision. I believe this is most important.

We love Socrates at The Movie Waffler, and I said as much in my review. But over to you now; why should our readers take a chance on Socrates?

It's a quick hour and 10-minute watch. I hope that the time can fly by, but that the effect can linger. It's an intense experience, but if you feel something when you watch it, then you will know we all share something very deep within us that carries over oceans, borders, age, race, religion, and everything else in between.