This review was originally posted in March 2019 but has since been updated to reflect the release of Socrates nationwide in September 2020.
Alexandre Moratto’s debut feature Socrates is nothing short of stunning and compelling. A journey into grief and loss that dovetails with self-discovery and identity. The backdrop of emerging sexuality and survival in São Paulo defies the usual stereotypes of LGBTQ cinema by mixing the reality of homelessness with the insufferable pain of institutional homophobia.
The Quero Institute and UNICEF backed production ensures the film speaks directly to the experience of young people. The result is a movie that empowers ‘at risk’ teens as producers, co-writers and actors and equally challenges social structures of support. Here the thin lines between poverty, security, acceptance, and rejection are laid bare with a documentary-like realism and precision.
However, what makes Socrates even more impressive, is the tiny budget within which it creates such an expansive story. Socrates (Christian Malheiros) is a lonely and segregated 15-year-old boy whose life has recently been thrown into turmoil on the sudden death of his mother. This tragic and sudden loss has plunged him into a tough and relentless fight to keep his head above water. While at the same time, he navigates the challenges of his emerging sexuality. His need for companionship and love only adding to his vulnerability and isolation; the city streets rife with people ready to attack and manipulate.
As young Socrates tries to find a route through the turbulence of grief and volatility of poverty, he develops an emotional and physical connection with a local young man who works as a labourer. Their passionate meetings kept a secret from the outside world, as both young men navigate the unspoken boundaries of masculinity. However, for Socrates, the relationship offers a spark of light in a dark world, a brief glimpse of freedom, belonging and acceptance. But for his lover, the sexual release of Socrates love comes second to the need to maintain secrecy.
The ensuing journey is powerful and honest, with performances wrapped in an unforced realism that seeps through every scene. Here the short 71-minute runtime captures the heat, poverty, isolation and grief of Socrates world. While in turn managing to layer the darkness with moments of hope and freedom. Meanwhile, the unknown cast of young performers provides us with characters who sing with both depth and sincerity.
However, the real power of the film comes from its honest reflection of the choices forced upon young people who lack both opportunity and care. The final message only further deepened by the current political landscape of Brazil. Including the constant threat to LGBTQ rights and freedoms from a government embedded in toxic masculinity. Thus, trapping many young people in the undercurrents of nationalism. And while Socrates may not offer any easy answers, it shines a powerful light on the experiences of too many young people in our world. Consequently, asking us all to reflect on the causes of homelessness among the young and the effects of socially accepted homophobia that leads many kids to the danger of life on the streets.
Director: Alexandre Moratto