Brazilian-American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto’s “Socrates” is his first feature length film. It was produced by the Querô Institute of Brazil, co-written, produced, and acted by people ranging in age from sixteen to twenty. These young film makers come from low-income communities and they received support from UNICEF.
This story revolves around a fifteen year-old named Socrates who finds himself with nowhere to go after the untimely death of his mother. His age prevents him from getting a much-needed job and his sexual orientation isn’t doing him any favors, either, in the testoterone-driven favelas. His landlady is at the end of her rope and demands rent now or she will evict. On top of everything, Socrates isn’t even allowed to collect his mother’s ashes unless he connects with the father who turned his back on them because of his son’s sexuality.
The film becomes a story of a young man on the outskirts of both society and life. The favela of Baixada Santista is a rough place that shows no mercy and Socrates finds himself amongst these unforgiving streets looking for work and acceptance.
On a day-labor job he meets fellow worker Maicron. At first the two young men fight but later become close, both giving in to their need for intimacy. Sadly, while Socrates feels this could be love, Maicron’s needs come from a different place and discovers that two men can never be sexually free in their bigoted and dangerous surroundings.
With his home slipping away and no friends to connect with, Socrates finds himself seemingly on the edges of the world. As a young gay man he is trapped on the fringes of an unaccepting society which leads him to desperation and the very real contemplation of prostituting himself and later, even considering suicide.
Morrato’s debut film is a deeply affecting and personal work that has moments that hark back to “The 400 Blows,” “Salaam Bombay!” and Ken Loach’s “Kes.” These films were powerfully-touching and drenched in social realism featuring performances from novice actors who you never caught acting. The drama in “Socrates” and the three previously mentioned films benefits from documentary-like styling. The shots in this film (courtesy of cinematographer João Gabriel de Quieroz) don’t call attention to themselves but occasionally reflect a beauty that overcomes the grit and grime of the slums.
Christian Malheiros is stunning as Socrates. Here is a gay teenager, in a city that marginalizes homosexual communities, who is without money and work and who is about to lose his home. The actor shows us a man who is forced to grow wise beyond his years due to the fact that almost everyone from whom he seeks help abandons him. Socrates is on his own and there is no turning back, only forward, and Malheiros is remarkable using his face to show the defeat, the anger, desire, and small rebirth of this almost broken soul. There is a powerful moment where he sits outside and hears a mother (shot just out of focus) scolding her child. He doesn’t look their way, only his eyes show the longing for his mother and how even a scolding is something to be missed.
The film doesn’t wrap it all up in a tidy ending for its audience. We leave not knowing the fate of this young man. In “Socrates,” and for the lives of the people who live in favelas, the future is uncertain, and the despair palpable. We can only hope our main character finds his way to a good life. But, like the people we see every day in our own cities struggling on the outskirts of society, we wish them well, though we only see them for a short time. The excellent “Socrates” is the mirror that highlights this urgency that burns from country to country.