Italian neorealism and the French New Wave have made a long-lasting impression on worldwide cinema. The influence of these eras is evident in Cinema Novo, a Brazilian film movement in the 1960s and 1970s that focused on working-class lives using handheld cinematography. Alexandre Moratto uses similar techniques in Socrates from this movement to focus on the criticism of society and politics in his country. His directorial debut is impressive in parts but unpolished.
The audience is thrust straight into Socrates’s (Christian Malheiros) difficult life as he desperately attempts to revive his dead mother. Socrates has no time to grieve. Being under eighteen, he faces eviction from his home into social care if he does not find a guardian to support him. Socrates decides he can survive on his own and goes in search of work. Though due to his young age and the restrictive job market, he has difficulty obtaining employment.
Moratto’s decisions range from being ingenious to clumsy. In the opening moments of Socrates, there are shots where the camera focuses on the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of São Paulo, and this shows how impoverished lives are in Brazil by focusing on the favelas. Throughout the film, the audience sees Socrates deep in thought within these decrepit surroundings, and we sympathise with him as many people encounter similar hardships all over the world. Dramatic music complements these scenes enhancing the mood, contrasted by very different scenes with loud hip hop music, which represent the frustration and angst Socrates feels. There is further good use of sound as his feelings are also expressed well through the use of gentle sea waves and moving trains. Unfortunately, among these many moments where the camera stares at Socrates, the audience is unsure of what he is thinking as he is simultaneously experiencing loss, unemployment and relationship problems. Frenzied scenes, such as when Socrates is running or when conflict arises, employ haphazard handheld cinematography. It is disappointing to see the film go from absorbing the audience to alienating them in a matter of moments.
Moratto shows potential and is a filmmaker to watch, but he does not realise the full potential of his story. There is a decent amount of artistry displayed in Socrates that warrants a viewing, but the film will struggle to compel audiences. Exploration of the film’s plot could have been in greater depth as Socrates incorporates a lot of content within its runtime of just over an hour. The closing moments then might have had more impact if the audience had more time to get to know Socrates. Moratto’s first effort is reasonable and it will be interesting to see what he does next, but, as it stands, his debut could have been more polished.