The Way He Looks Dir. Daniel Ribeiro

[Strand Releasing; 2014]

Styles: drama, romance, coming of age
Others: You, Me, and Him, My Girl, God Help the Girl, Juno

The Way He Looks, directed by Daniel Ribeiro, takes a snapshot of a particular time in the life of a teenage boy in suburban Brazil. Bike rides, first kisses, and arguing with parents are quintessential aspects of growing up for many, but Leonardo (Ghillerme Lobo) perceives everything a little differently because, unlike his peers, he was born sightless. The film presents a new angle on the coming-of-age genre not only by showing us the world through the eyes of a blind person, but also by telling the less often heard story of boy meets boy.

The audience first encounters best friends Leonardo and Giovana (Tess Amorim) soaking in the last lazy days of summer by a pool. They complain about the typical trials of youth, including boredom and longing for one’s first kiss. It isn’t until we see Giovana walking Leonardo to his house and opening the gate for him that the audience realizes that he is blind. It becomes clear that Giovana takes on the role of guide and guardian against bullies. However, in spite of her good intentions, Leonardo can’t help feeling stifled by her protectiveness on top of the overbearing measures enforced by his parents. Frustrated by his desire for independence, he considers studying abroad to to start anew.

His life takes a sudden turn, though, when a new boy, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), arrives in town. The girls at school including Giovana are immediately enamored by his good looks and gentle demeanor. However, after the best friends invite him into their circle, it is Leonardo, not Giovana, that Gabriel falls for. The two boys team up for a class assignment a romance blossoms, pushing Giovana abruptly out of the picture, thereby causing a domino effect of jealousy and misunderstandings. By the close of the film, no character is quite the same. Leonardo proves to those around him that the image projected upon him does not mirror the reality of who he is, and everyone including the class bully must reassess their assumptions.

Director and screenwriter Daniel Ribeiro handles the complex subjects of disability and coming out with empathy and sincerity, unabashedly presenting the challenges of these issues without provoking pity or over-dramatizing. Leonardo acknowledges his awakening sexuality without shame, and in doing so opens himself to a world of new experiences with Gabriel. Unlike everyone else in his life, Gabriel treats him like a person, not just a person with special needs. Gabriel invites him to watch movies and even pulls him onto the dance floor– activities closed to him previously. In contrast to other coming-of-age films like Juno or Mean Girls, the dramatic revelation of the story is not tumultuous for the characters, but seemingly part of natural development and permeated by nervous excitement, as opposed to anxiety.

The film moves with the organic pacing of daily life and takes the viewer on an enjoyable ride that makes growing up seem not as bad after all. With seamless performances by Ghillerme Lobo, Tess Amorim, and Fabio Audi, and a summery soundtrack featuring Belle and Sebastian, The Way He Looks hits all the right notes, filling the viewer with nostalgia for the present moment, a sense of joyful freedom mixed with acknowledgment of the imperfections of life.

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