The title character (Christian Malheiros) of out gay director/ co-writer Alexandre Moratto’s intimate, affecting Brazilian drama “Sócrates” is a gay 15-year-old facing homelessness. As this intense film opens, Sócrates’ mother has died and he is trying to live on his own, avoiding both foster care and moving back in with his estranged, homophobic father, Robson (Jayme Rodrigues). Sócrates’ despair is beautifully conveyed by Malheiros, who offers a touchingly expressive performance.
Finding a job at a junkyard, Sócrates gets into a fight with Maicon (Tales Ordakji). However, when Maicon later invites Sócrates over to his place, a relationship develops between them. As Sócrates grapples with his emotions and experiences economic hardships, his resilience is inspiring.
In a recent phone interview, Moratto spoke with Gay City News about his powerful film.
GARY M. KRAMER: You dedicate “Sócrates” to your late mother. How close is this story to your experiences?
ALEXANDRE MORATTO: My social context is very different than Sócrates’, but in terms of the emotions it is very much what I was feeling. I was cut off from my family at the time of my mother’s death, so I had to deal with it alone. I was isolated. I needed to get those emotions out.
KRAMER You made the film with a crew of 16- to 20 year-olds as part of a program of social inclusion. Can you talk about that process?
MORATTO: In 2009, when I was 19, I volunteered at the Querô Institute in Brazil. It was a great exchange. I told them about my world, and they showed me theirs. We talked about making a film together, so years later, in 2016-17, I brought the project to them. I wanted to make it the way we worked when I was a volunteer — the [youths] are on the set and its hands-on. They learn by doing.
KRAMER: Much of the film is shot in close-up and conveys the grittiness and urgency of Sócrates’ life. Can you discuss your approach to the film’s intimate style?
MORATTO: I wanted the film to be a portrait of this young man, so we should stay on his face the whole time. I love working with actors, watching them think and staying on their faces to see the quiet details and what’s going on behind their eyes. Christian Malheiros is a trained theater actor, so in the early auditions, he acted very big, but I’d tell him the camera is so close to his face everything is magnified — I can see all your micro-expressions in your eyes. The cinematographer kept the camera close to the bodies, and he moves in a way that reminds me of dance. That was a nice way to work, to synchronize the camera movement with the actors.
KRAMER: Why make a gay film?
MORATTO: It’s important to me because I’m openly gay. So is my co-writer, Thayná Mantesso, who was 18 when we wrote the script back in 2016. She’s from the community where the film was set. It was personal for us. We don’t see enough stories about gay people from this socio-economic background, so for reasons of representation, I love that about it, too.
KRAMER: I like how the film touches on issues queer youth face — homelessness, sex work, etc.
MORATTO: Those are the core scenes of the film, but if we take a step back and not think of the specifics of his situation, and think of his emotions, he’s abandoned, ignored, and marginalized by society. It’s not that he’s homeless and contemplates sex work — the big tragedy is that he doesn’t have any love, and that’s what he really needs. He’s rarely hugged except by the woman who worked with his mother. It’s about young people who don’t fit the status quo. How can we live in a world where we don’t give these people, who need support, love?
KRAMER: What was your intention in depicting the relationship that develops between Maicon and Sócrates?
MORATTO: It is sexual, but it’s mixed with other feelings, such as competing at work. That competition is not uncommon in gay relationships. My intention with Maicon was a character Socrates has a connection with, but he can’t give him what he needs at that moment.
KRAMER: There are several episodes of homophobia in the film, including one at a beach. Can you talk about homophobia in Brazil?
MORATTO: Machismo and homophobia are ingrained in Brazilian culture and it’s always been that way. I understand that from my family. My mother was afraid for my safety when I came out as gay. “Don’t kiss in public and don’t touch in public…” We have the largest Gay Pride Parade in the world in Brazil. In many ways, homosexuality is accepted, but in many ways it is not. The scene of homophobia at the beach was Thanyá’s idea. You don’t go to the beach and kiss under the docks. That makes it more realistic and shows how things really are. It was important was to show it raw and real. That’s the world Sócrates lives in.
SÓCRATES | Directed by Alexandre Moratto | Breaking Glass Pictures | In Portuguese with English subtitles | Opens August 16 | Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com