Moratto offers an insightful look into the youth culture of Brazil with this grief-inducing drama about a young gay teen’s paternal loss and poverty on the coast of São Paulo.
With Socrates, Brazilian-American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto offers an insightful look into the youth culture of Brazil with this grief-inducing drama about a young gay teen’s paternal loss and poverty on the coast of São Paulo. Socrates (Christian Malheiros), a lonesome young man grieving the death of his mother (who was his only present parent), is thrown into a world of adult challenges and miseries very rapidly, with the audience likewise immediately thrust into his struggles.
Moratto harkens back to the bygone era of Brazil’s Cinema Novo, a cinematic movement focusing on the working class of Brazil, and one heavily influenced by Italian neorealism and French new wave, like much of world cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Cinema Novo was created in opposition to racial and civil unrest in Brazil, glossed over by Brazilian cinema’s attempts at recreating Hollywood-style musicals and epics. With an increasingly politically conservative climate in today’s Brazil, this film feels like a throwback to a visual form of protest, a stance and a statement in opposition to the poverty and racism still suffered in large areas of the country. The name Socrates itself is a famous name in the country, with late soccer player Sócrates (1954-2011) etched in Brazilian history for his political views as well as his sports career, and the film is therefore aptly named as it touches upon several sociopolitical issues in Brazil.
Socrates is a vernacular film shot by a young crew, which at times is telling as the film struggles to hone in on a single plot point on which to focus, with many well-filmed close-ups of the protagonist lost in thought amongst the favelas, rundown buildings and broken people. The sound design succeeds in creating an atmosphere of frustration, with jarring hip-hop amongst the noises of people and cars, which is again let down by the film’s lack of singular focus. The hardships and struggles of Socrates and those around him are clear to see, but within a 71-minute runtime, it is difficult to tie all the threads together in what is otherwise a genuinely absorbing effort. A meeting with his estranged father offers a glimpse into the homophobia that Socrates suffers along the bigotry of his own family, as in one scene his father spits the words “go suck cock” aggressively at the young man.
Handheld camerawork often alienates audiences, invasively inserting itself as it does into the plot. But in Socrates, handheld shots serve as a mode of visual transportation, adding frenzy, atmosphere and intimacy. Exploration is a fundamental aspect of the film, and Moratto shows potential moving forward as a filmmaker, though the film unfortunately grows less coherent and poignant as it goes on. Though the closing sequence is powerful, unfortunately by the time we reach it, Socrates has ricocheted back and forth in attempt to cram too much into a short runtime.