The eponymous 15-year-old Afro-Latino teen in Brazilian American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto’s empathy-inducing “Socrates” roams São Paulo’s impoverished neighborhoods in the aftermath of his mother’s passing. He knocks on familiar doors in the hopes that someone opens who can provide understanding and shelter.
The underage Socrates (Christian Malheiros), whose facial gestures oscillate between stoicism and crushing wails, can’t get hired for legitimate positions to support himself and prevent being sent to his estranged father. Revealing themselves via portioned exposition, the complications of his plight slowly come into focus.
The writing by the director and co-scribe Thayná Mantesso is deft and pithy, and there’s a rawness of spirit in both the stellar central performance and the film’s social realist aesthetic. The way Moratto captures Socrates’ unremitting woes with an extraordinary sense of place marks the essence of this affecting and necessary debut.
As Socrates endures grief and battles homelessness, his friendship with Maicon (Tales Ordakji) corroborates that concealing their nature is required to survive their hyper-masculine environment where faith-based prejudices and ignorance reign.
Inspired by Moratto’s volunteering work with the Querô Institute, a UNICEF-backed organization advocating filmmaking as a tool to empower at-risk youth, and produced in direct collaboration with its participants, the blistering sincerity in “Socrates” is not fabricated but channeled from its authentic source. Sugarcoating was not allowed.
At Moratto’s discretion, cinematographer João Gabriel de Queiroz’s camera walks alongside the bruised warrior through disheartening trials but leaves his future open-ended for the tide of life to shift in his favor. That’s the hope for the young person portrayed, and those like him who contributed to the film’s existence.
Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Playing: Starts Aug. 9, Laemmle Music Hall