A debut feature of exceptional quality set on the streets of Santos, Brazil.


Christian Malheiros and Tales Ordakji


It is very rare indeed to find a first feature made with the sense of confidence and command that Alexandre Moratto brings to his debut, Sócrates. Even if the film were less distinguished than it is, it would be notable on account of its origins. As we learn from an opening written statement this is a Unicef-supported project involving a crew of youngsters between the ages of sixteen and twenty, one designed to provide social inclusion through filmmaking for teenagers from low income households in that part of São Paulo known as the Baixada Santista. Aptly enough, the actual subject matter of Sócrates is the plight of youngsters struggling to survive in a city, Santos, which is situated in the state of São Paulo.


The succinct nature of the story-telling is illustrated in the film's very first scene. 15-year-old Sócrates (Christian Malheiros) who is living with his mother in Santos realises that, having been off work and unwell, she has now quietly passed away in her sleep. Showing this without any build-up combines economy of means with an awareness that nothing more is needed because the boy's plight is vivid enough in itself. There is rent owing and Sócrates seeks out any job going but resists the attentions of a social worker (Vanessa Santana) who would want to put him in care unless she can reunite him with the father (Jayme Rodrigues) who had turned his back on both wife and son. His motivation in doing so had been influenced by his homophobia because it had become clear that Sócrates was gay and, unlike the mother, he had not accepted this.


The tone of Sócrates is admirably urgent and committed so that one never feels sold short by its running length being no more than 71 minutes. We identify strongly with the youth as he seeks to keep his independence and to find his own way in a hostile world (even asking for his mother's ashes finds him met by the assertion that they can only be handed over to his father). At this time of crisis, Sócrates finds himself drawn into a relationship with a young man whom he encounters when working on a construction site: this is Maicon (Tales Ordakji). Consequently, Sócrates feels at times like a blend of social drama and gay love story, but this is not allowed to distort the film in that it never becomes sentimental and the social issues remain at the heart of the work.


Malheiros and Ordakji both come from the theatre yet Moratto's direction ensures that this is never apparent for he guides them into giving performances that are never stagey; both play well and Malheiros in particular handles the leading role with real distinction. The cinematic potency of the film is further enhanced by the photography which captures the location admirably. The ending of the piece arguably owes something to the famous concluding scene in François Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959), but it is perhaps even more to the point to stress that the ground covered here carries strong echoes of another Brazilian movie, Héctor Babenco's Pixote (1981). However, the fact that after thirty years or so conditions in that part of the world have changed so little means that it is all the more important to revisit this ground, especially in a film as well made as this one (that Moratto is editor as well as director comes as no surprise and he is co-author of the screenplay too). Given the degree of personal involvement here, a dedication to be found at the film's close has particular resonance.




Cast: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Rosins Paulo, Calo Martinez Pacheco, Jayme Rodrigues, Vanessa Santana, Fátima Antonelli, Andrielly De Melo Chaves.


Dir Alexandre Moratto, Pro Tammy Weiss, Ramin Bahrani, Alexandre Moratto and Jefferson Paulino, Screenplay Alexandre Moratto and Thauná Mantesso, Ph João Gabriel de Queiroz, Art Dir Thaianne Spinassi and Juh Guedes, Ed Alexandre Moratto, Music Felipe Puperi and Tiago Abrahão, Costumes Juh Guedes.


Instituto Querô/Querô Filmes-Peccadillo Pictures.
71 mins. Brazil. 2018. Rel: 4 September 2020. Available in cinemas
and on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema and Peccadillo Player. Cert. 15.