This is the second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 2 is called "Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award Week":
"The Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award is presented to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000 by the Film Independent, a non-profit organization dedicated to independent film and independent filmmakers. It is named after actor/screenwriter/director John Cassavetes, a pioneer of American independent film.
Created for the 15th Independent Spirit Awards, it was originally called the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature (Under $500,000). After that, the rules changed so that any feature film budgeted under $500,000 could be eligible (regardless of how many films the director has made), hence the new name."
We're going low budget this week. Let's see what can be done with limited funding and unlimited passion.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film that has been nominated for the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award.
"Going low budget" is an understatement. Sócrates had a budget of $20,000, with which was produced a feature film of great skill. Alexandre Moratto was making his debut as a director, as was Christian Malheiros as the title character (Malheiros was not an amateur, having been in theater since he was 9). Moratto worked with Instituto Querô, a UNICEF program for at-risk youths. He was helped by another first-timer, writer Thayná Mantesso. The entire group worked closely together, and the resulting film is tight.
Malheiros isn't quite the whole story, but he is in every scene ... hell, he's in pretty much every shot. He plays Sócrates with internal strength ... he doesn't over-act, using his eyes to tell us what he is feeling. Moratto relies on a lot of close-ups that intensify the emotions of the characters. At the beginning of the film, Sócrates discovers his mother has died. Sócrates is 15, he seems to have no other family, and he lives in poverty. Everything works against him, but Sócrates makes every effort to improve his position. Throughout, he tries to make peace with his grief. The film, though, is not always peaceful. He becomes the lover of Maicon, played by yet another newcomer, Tales Ordakji, and their budding relationship is realistic but doomed, and the homophobia the two encounter is doubled down when Sócrates, having nowhere else to go, finally approaches his father, who beats him for being gay.
Somehow, with all of this, Moratto hasn't made a completely depressing movie. Malheiros gives us hope for Sócrates, even if events and society don't offer much help. Sócrates isn't just a good-for-you movie; it's a good movie, period.