By Thomas White.
Produced by a young crew from low-income at-risk communities in São Paulo, Sócrates reflects the circumstances under which it was conceived. Set in a dynamic environment, in which poverty and aspiration sit side by side, it is a coming of age drama which incorporates themes of grief, loss and marginalisation.
The film opens with an arrestingly powerful scene, where a young teenage boy, the titular Sócrates, discovers his dead mother in bed. Clearly distraught he vainly attempts to revive her. From here we follow him as he walks the streets in search of money, help and a safe place, with the threat of being put into care. It is a struggle not made any easier by the fact that he is still a minor, constantly faced with bureaucracy, resentment and ostracisation.
A major reason for this last hurdle is to do with his homosexual orientation. This revelation came rather out of the blue, considerably far into the established premise, that one might be forgiven for questioning its relevance to the narrative.
As it turns out there are pivotal moments on which the issue relies, or rather the homophobic reactions and attitudes of others towards it. At one stage Sócrates befriends a youth who offers him work, their sexual tension between one another hints at a more physical relationship which is, at first, manifested by homoerotic aggression. The subject of homosexuality is still particularly taboo in many sections of Brazilian society, even today, and so I did wonder why this additional element of adversity was introduced so late, with the story already well underway.
Christian Malheiros plays the lead with an emotional truth and sensitive authenticity. Immediately engaging, his benign countenance gives little away while at the same time conveying all of the emotion.
Many of the roles were played by non-actors, and a special mention should go to Rosane Paulo, who plays one of the late mother’s co-workers. She resembles something of a self-appointed mother figure, giving him at one stage, quite literally, a shoulder to cry on. A simple, wordless gesture of maternal sympathy allowing a moment for him to express and share his grief, and a rare occasion where he is shown some genuine kindness and compassion. It is testament to the maturity of Alexandre Moratto’s competent direction. A promising talent, he confidently employs space and understatement when needed.
For a film which deals with teenage hardships, grief and bereavement, it does not appear as visually bleak in its aesthetic. João Gabriel de Queiroz’s cinematography represents the rundown poverty-stricken locales with a certain amount of optimism, radiating colourfully underneath the bright Brazilian sunshine. The handheld camerawork keeps the film grounded in reality, reminding us of the instability of the environment we are in. Whereas other films of this category might choose to exploit the more life threatening, criminal aspects of youth forced to survive in conditions of precarious vulnerability, for instance Héctor Babenco’s Pixote or Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, Sócrates focuses more on inner conflict and emotion. It makes for a more ambiguous and aspiring storyline, a credit to the hugely ambitious and talented young crew.
Much like the Greek philosopher’s namesake, Sócrates remains somewhat of an enigma. Ultimately he is faced with having to let go of his attachment to his mother, quite literally. An effective resolution yet slightly wanting, I felt the opportunity was there to further explore his own character development, as he approaches adulthood. There was no indication as to if and how his life’s course might take a different direction.
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