In a cinematic world dominated by the MCU, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a film requires a large budget to be competent. When the average budget of a Hollywood movie is easily in the tens of millions of dollars, and entire CGI worlds have become mundane to most viewers, films that cost less than the price of a house to produce can end up drastically underseen. The fact that possessing a smartphone capable of taking decent quality videos is the norm, and videos can easily be shared to hundreds of millions of people through sites like YouTube, makes this especially confusing – micro-movies have levels of artistic freedom that films from larger studios aren’t usually afforded, and are therefore (to me at least) often far more interesting and exciting. This is especially true in the case of Socrates, a beautiful, raw, and painful musing on the poverty of a single individual, that was acted by a group of at risk Brazillian teenagers assisted by UNICEF, and made with a budget of less than $20,000.
The opening shot immediately establishes the brutal tone of this film: we meet Socrates, a 15-year-old boy, as he attempts to wake up his mother, who is quickly revealed to have died in her sleep. The remainder of the film then follows him as he is refused jobs for his age, and denied support from his family due to his sexuality – a facet of the character that apparently lead his mother to leave his homophobic father prior to the start of the film. The narrative structure may be somewhat rambling, but this is clearly in the pursuit of social realism; Socrates has no routine or direction, and as indicated by the name of the film and the numerous point of view shots, this is an artwork entirely defined by his subjective experiences. We are rarely if ever afforded information that Socrates does not already possess, drastically heightening the tension by reminding us that his situation is urgent, and he doesn’t necessarily have a convenient way out.
Much like the leads in neorealist masterpieces like Paisa and The Bicycle Thieves, Christian Malheiros absolutely makes the character of Socrates. Never overplaying his grief, he subtly conveys his pain through a general attitude of desperation and malaise, projected via longing stares with tired eyes. As a micro-budget film, Socrates has the privilege of anonymity; you don’t associate Malheiros with anyone other than the character he embodies. I also appreciate the casting of young people who genuinely look as though they live in poverty – Socrates and his lover Maicon are rarely shown looking washed and clean, reflecting the reality of those in their position. It’s details like this that allow the political message of the film to come through, as simply displaying their appalling situation is enough to get across the complete lack of state compassion that allows poverty to occur in the first place.
Though Socrates isn’t the easiest film to watch or to find, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s rough around the edges, but so is life, and this is one of the most honest films I’ve seen in recent years.