Directed by Alexandre Moratto.
Starring Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Jayme Rodrigues, Wagner Viana, Andrielly De Melo Chaves, Rosane Paulo and Caio Martinez Pacheco.
Following his mother’s death, a Brazilian teenager struggles to earn enough money to stay afloat in his deprived area of São Paulo.
We talk a lot about movies that are important, or a force for good. Brazilian drama Sócrates boasts those credentials more explicitly than most. It was produced by the UNICEF-supported Querô Institute, which uses audiovisual entertainment to bring opportunities and inclusivity to young people in deprived areas of Brazil. Made for just $20,000 by first-time feature director Alexandre Moratto, the film used predominantly untrained actors to enhance its naturalism and the reality of the under-privileged Brazil it depicts. The result is a little gem of a drama.
The title character – presumably named after the iconic 80s footballer – is a 15-year-old, played with sensitivity by rising star Christian Malheiros. His mother passes away in the opening scene, leaving him with rent to pay in order to avoid being thrown out on to the streets. Carrying out odd jobs at a junkyard, he meets Maicon (Tales Ordakj) and the two begin a relationship, but one that faces trouble with persistent homophobia as Sócrates battles the bureaucracy that attempts to force him back into the care of his absentee father (Jayme Rodrigues).
There’s a quiet power to Sócrates, from the early scenes of a young man willing his mother’s dead body to shake back into life to the climax in which the protagonist is caught amid literal waves after a story in which he is repeatedly buffeted between waves of suffering. This is a movie about a society which allows people like Sócrates to slip through the cracks and fade away, despite his willingness to work for his place in the world and his capacity for love and tenderness.
Malheiros, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his performance, is a tremendous leading man. He’s taciturn for the most part, but capable of explosions of emotion, whether it’s in his passionate encounters with Maicon or his irate rant when he is unable to take custody of his mother’s ashes. The movie depicts the fine line many of us walk between just about managing and financial ruin, while exposing the crumbling foundations upon which that sort of fiscal stability exists. Malheiros is a wide-eyed, innocent figure through which to view these horrors.
Sócrates is nuanced in its depiction of Malheiros’s sexuality and teases out the ways in which that sexuality has impacted his life. His scenes with the repressed, terrified Ordakj crackle with sexual tension and unspoken passion, with Ordakj’s performance wordlessly confirming Maicon’s misgivings and complex emotions surrounding his own desires. Darker and more dangerous edges to Sócrates’s sexual relationships are introduced in the third act and the film wears these scenes with precisely the detached bleakness they merit.
This is a potent and quietly enthralling drama that uses its loose, naturalistic performances to tell a story of a society that refuses to take responsibility for those living below the poverty line. Malheiros cements himself as a star capable of understated heart – a calm exterior concealing a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and trauma – as well as holding the camera effortlessly with his expressive face. This is a devastating tale that, eventually, finds a glimmer of hope – a glimmer we all hope that will ultimately reveal itself at the end of whatever dark tunnels life forces us to walk down.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.