Socrates

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Socrates
"Not a huge amount may happen in terms of plot and Moratto keeps his storyline light on its feet, but the situation and emotions feel real and raw." | Photo: Courtesy of BFI Flare

Driven by the sort of passion that is the province of the young and a finely worked central performance from Christian Malheiros made all the more remarkable by the fact that it marks his screen debut, Socrates sees a young man struggling to cope with grief and poverty.

Made by director Alexandre Moratto (writing with Thayná Mantesso), with a teenage crew from the UNICEF-supported Quero Institute, which aims to improve social inclusion for youngsters but like the acting performance from Malheiros, there's barely a trace of inexperience on display. It's a lean slice of life, shot through with the sort of humanism the Dardennes brothers have made their stock-in trade, which wastes little time, beginning, as it does, with the death of Socrates' mother - a moment of shock for him and for us.

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The youngster may look older than his 15 years and be willing to work at his mother's old cleaning job but what it says on his birth certificate is a problem when it comes to securing work, which means his home is in peril - a situation exacerbated by his evident dread of the social worker's suggestion that he move back in with his father (Jayme Rodrigues). A ray of hope is offered by a nascent relationship with a young man, Maicon (Tales Ordakji, another impressive debutant, although it's worth noting the actor, like Malheiros is a professional and theatre trained). But romance, like almost everything in Socrates' life, comes with its own volatility.

Not a huge amount may happen in terms of plot and Moratto keeps his storyline light on its feet, but the situation and emotions feel real and raw. When connections come - sex or a hug of sympathy - they carry all the more weight for the fact that they seem almost incidental in the great scheme of Socrates' problems. The secondary characters may not have huge amounts of screen time but there's a sense of them having their own tribulations and lives away from the moment we see.

Often cinematographer João Gabriel de Queiroz follows Socrates or watches him alone, giving Malheiros an opportunity to show the physical effects of everything from loss to hunger upon his character.This is a mental space where spaghetti is eaten as though it might disappear as quickly as it arrived, where grief comes in sudden rasps and memories linger as hair on a comb. Socrates has no time to wallow in his problems and nor does the film, emphasising the resilience of a central character, who might be down but who is most certainly not out. The film is dedicated to the memory of Muratto's mother, perhaps that is why it is so keenly felt.

Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2020
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After his mother’s sudden death, 15-year-old Socrates must learn how to fend for himself in São Paulo.

Director: Alex Moratto

Writer: Thayná Mantesso, Alex Moratto

Starring: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji

Year: 2018

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Brazil

Festivals:

Flare 2019

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