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SOCRATES(TV MOVIE) (director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriter: Marcella Mariani; cinematographer: Jorge Herrero Martin; editor: Alfredo Muschietti; music: Mario Nascimbene; cast: Jean Sylvère (Socrates), Anna Caprile (Xanthippe), Ricardo Palacios (Crito), Giuseppe Mannajuolo (Apollodoro), Antonio Medina (Platone), Julio Morales (Antistene); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Renzo Rossellini; Criterion Collection; 1971-Italy/Spain/France-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Talky but engrossing made for TV biopic on the doomed ancient Greek orator and philosopher Socrates’s last days.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Celebrated neorealist Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini (“Vanina Vanini“/”Fear”/”Stromboli”), turning his attention in his later years to historical films on subjects like Blaise Pascal, Louis X1V, Augustine and Cartesius, directs this talky but engrossing made for TV biopic on the doomed ancient Greek orator and philosopher Socrates’s last days, when Sparta defeats his Athenian democracy and the old sage is placed on trial in an open-air court for corrupting the youth of Athens. It’s based on Plato’s dialogues, and the teleplay is co-written by Rossellini and Marcella Mariani. The politically savvy pic effectively shows how modern democratic society emulates how the ancient Greek society mistreated its unorthodox teachers, intellectuals and idealists in the same misbegotten fashion of contempt. Rossellini ably points out that living in a democracy does not necessarily mean there is not an intolerance for independent thought and humanistic urges, as the director can recall recently how a democratic Italy was so easily swayed over to the fascist side by a power hungry fool like Mussolini.

The stoical Socrates (Jean Sylvère), a flawed father-figure, endures a temper-tantrum from his nagging wife (Anna Caprile) when coming home after spending the last two days of the fall of Athens with his idolizing male students wandering in the wilderness instead of completing his errand to buy bread for her and his starving children. It’s then off to the trial, as Socrates proclaims “I know nothing” and a long debate begins to get at the truth if he’s a corrupter of society as the citizens of Athens cast their innocent or guilty ballots in a large plant pot. Most do not buy into Socrates’ opinion that he’s only the facilitator in developing the truth, and rather than escape, with the help of his followers, Socrates drinks the hemlock provided by one of his acolytes and serenely assures them he was condemned to death by birth and is only following a natural course of life.

The arc of the brilliant film, based on the cold facts, is in how much Rossellini identifies with the immovable Socrates in relating to how difficult it is to convey the truth if the other person is not open-minded and doesn’t adhere to a philosophy of ‘Know thyself.’


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”