This month Jack Cline reviews new films Sócrates and Monsoon.
There’s a reason why this Brazilian teen drama feels so strikingly realistic: it was created in a workshop of young people between the ages of 16 and 20. Filmmaker Alex Moratto then gave shape to their story, which follows gay teen Sócrates through a series of life-changing events. It’s skilfully shot and edited, sharply performed by a terrific cast of non-actors, and vividly involving.
In a poor suburb of São Paulo, 15-year-old Sócrates (Christian Malheiros) has nowhere to turn when his mother dies. Too young to get a proper job or even to collect his mother’s ashes, he has been cruelly rejected by his religious father (Jayme Rodrigues) for being gay. Then he meets Maicon (Tales Ordakji), and a surprising spark of attraction leads to a tender relationship. But both of them are facing severe outside pressures, and their fiery tempers threaten to break them apart.
The camera stays close to Sócrates all the way through, revealing that his stubborn resolve is one of his biggest obstacles, because he rejects the most important help he’s offered, from a persistent social worker. Meanwhile the people he turns to refuse to assist him, removing options until his only choices are prostitution or suicide. Thankfully, Moratto keeps this realistic without giving in to hopelessness, and Malheiros gives a performance that’s full of open-handed emotions. He’s a teen boy in a grown man’s body, which makes his situation even more potent.
Full of fascinating shadings, the story never progresses down the expected paths. Even the connection between Sócrates and Maicon has an unusual trajectory, starting with a brawl and remaining continuously tumultuous even though they’re very sweet together. This honesty makes the scenes between Sócrates and his father even harder to watch, as his dad’s love is so harshly conditional. Otherwise, the plot is relatively unstructured, centring on Sócrates and his emotional odyssey. It’s a strikingly original exploration of both sexuality and various social issues, presenting these big themes in ways that remind us that they’re everyday challenges for so many people. And without preaching, the film urges us to pay attention to those around us who might be in need.
Sócrates will be in cinemas soon and on demand.
London-based filmmaker Hong Khaou follows up the superb Lilting (2014) with this equally sensitive drama starring Henry Golding, the British-Asian actor who broke out with Crazy Rich Asians, stole his scenes in The Gentlemen earlier this year and is set to be a major Hollywood action star. So it’s great to see him playing a complex gay Londoner in an unusually involving drama that skilfully explores issues of identity and personal history.
Golding is Kit, a young man travelling from Britain to Vietnam to scatter his parents ashes in their homeland. He’s also curious to rediscover the country where he lived until age 6, when his family fled as refugees. On a gay dating app, he hooks up with American expat Louis (Parker Sawyers), and he also reconnects with family friend Lee (David Tran) in Saigon before travelling onward to his parents’ hometown in Hanoi. Along the way, he discovers Vietnam’s growing youth art scene and learns the ancient art of making lotus tea.
The film unfolds at an unrushed pace, quietly exploring a range of issues that connect to sexuality, nationality and the legacy our parents leave for us. There’s wry comedy, hot sex and snappy conversations along the way, beautifully shot by cinematographer Benjamin Cracun. The locations are particularly eye-catching, as Kit discovers a variety of intriguing contexts for who he is. Golding shines as a guy who is learning to be open to whatever life throws at him, including this unexpected connection with a stranger. Sawyers is also excellent as Louis, effortlessly taking the journey from chitchat to bed to something even more intimate.
This is the kind of movie that gets under the skin, pulling us in and allowing us to see ourselves in Kit’s experiences. Not only does it make us think deeper about our connections to the people in our lives, but it also makes us want to visit Vietnam the moment travel restrictions are lifted.
Monsoon is released on DVD & Blu-Ray.