Even though he’s right at the beginning of his career, I would go to bat for Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro any day. I had the pleasure of seeing The Way He Looks at a festival in Wales last year, and was just blown away by the graceful tone and sensitive nature of the film. Not to mention an incredible lead performance by the very young Ghilherme Lobo. The film is based on Ribeiro’s short, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone (click ‘cc’ button for subtitles), which featured many of the same cast and was successful, too, in its own right.
The story follows Leonardo, a teenager who’s just a little bit different to the rest. He wants to have his first kiss, but he doesn’t want it to be with just anyone. No, it has to be special! Sorry to get all soft, but this made me fall in love with Leo (yep, we’re on nickname basis) right from the get-go, because although I was never a boy, I feel like his desire is unusual (boys: feel free to challenge). He wants his independence, but not to do anything really rebellious. He’s not sure who to hang with at school, and the fact that his best girl-friend Giovana has a crush on him is just making their friendship complicated. You see, Leo tends to shy away from drama.
But when he’s introduced to the new kid, Gabriel, he’s immediately drawn to the deep voice and mature outlook on life. The girls are all calling Gabriel ‘Prince Charming’, and he fits the description, but their affection isn’t real like Leo’s. Gabriel is equally curious about Leo, but their respective struggles to admit certain feelings are never framed as painful for painful’s sake.
More impressive, the fact that Leo is blind is not over-emphasized. Unlike many films featuring a blind character, this one doesn’t manipulate you into feeling sorry for Leo–which can make for a very uncomfortable movie experience. In fact, he’s so well adjusted to his vision impairment that most of the time even he forgets about it, which is a nice touch. So, yeah. This film is a blind gay teen coming-of-age, coming out story — and if any of that had collapsed into labor-intensive melodrama, I promise I wouldn’t be writing about it.
There are many moments in the film that endear you to Leo and Gabriel’s growing attraction, and one of my favorites is when Gabriel teaches Leo dance steps to the songs of Belle & Sebastian. Again, nothing is forced and the scene plays out almost as if improvised. Another memorable moment sees Gabriel picking up Leo on his bicycle at 1:00 AM to go and watch an eclipse. There’s a feeling of danger, sure, but I found myself less concerned with the consequences of Leo sneaking out after curfew, and more curious about his emotional stability.
That’s also how I felt throughout; fascinated by this boy who interacts so richly with the world, yet doesn’t go with the flow. Granted, there have been many coming of age stories on our screens lately, such as The Spectacular Now, Kings of Summer, and of course Boyhood. But the Way He Looks is the most authentic, feel-good movie that no one is talking about.
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