Rossellini's Socrates illustrates the ideas of Socrates and the key incidents of his last years: it is far from a traditional film biography. With his usual economy and inventiveness, Rossellini establishes the period by noting simple details of everyday life (Socrates is introduced buying octopus at the market, taking a coin from his mouth - the clothes of his period did not have pockets), rather than through elaborate scenic charades. His mise-en-scene perfectly accommodates the presentation of historical texts and documentary gestures: long takes, skillfully protracted by unorthodox zoom lensing, are the basic unit in his radical new film grammar. Long excerpts from Plato's Dialogues provide dialectical examples of Socrates' mode of reasoning, and present his ideas on madness, eloquence, death, justice, politics, rhetoric, beauty, knowledge and the immortality of the soul. Jean Sylvere is a marvelously wry, engaging Socrates, but his performance maintains the cool detachment of Rossellini's progressive aesthetic, which refuses heavy psychological interpretations or judgments by actors - in this sense, Socrates is a Brechtian movie. The events in the film cover the period from the Spartan Conquest of Athens in 404 B.C. to the death of Socrates in 399 B.C.

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