For most teenagers, becoming your own person, distancing yourself from your parents, and falling in love is enough to handle. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) does it blind. While working to gain independence from his kind but over-protective parents, Leo’s teenaged struggles are compounded by his disability. His relationships, both with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) and his own sexuality, shift with the arrival of Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a new student to his class.
“The Way He Looks” is a romantic drama loaded with a few hot button issues, but writer-director Daniel Ribeiro treats them with such normalcy and respect that they’re hardly visible as deviations to any coming of age story of young love. Leonardo’s blindness (as performed effortlessly by Lobo) is used in such a matter-of-fact way that Ribeiro is able to very easily get away with playing it for laughs without ever offending. Leonardo gets in little quips where he can – especially when it comes to his parents who at one point reprimand him for coming home after dark, to which Leo shrugs, “It’s always dark for me!”
And Ribeiro is so delicate with Leonardo’s evolving interest of Gabriel from a friend to something more that the evolution is nearly imperceptible. It helps that Lobo and Audi have so much chemistry together – something they may have developed while shooting the 17-minute short film version of this story in 2010. There’s no single “awakening” moment, instead Leonardo’s attraction to Gabriel is natural and honest and it’s a wonderfully human treatment of the material that filmmakers working in all shades of the sexuality spectrum could learn a lot from.
An early scene that depicts Leonardo being bullied at school is a little on-the-nose, but when it counts, “The Way He Looks” wins out with subtlety and plain old swooning, soaring romance. Indie and classical tracks from The National, Belle and Sebastian, and Arvo Pärt act as both the film’s score and the soundtrack to Leonardo’s life.
At the Chicago International Film Festival, I overheard a few volunteers mention that “The Way He Looks” had received a rare, nearly unanimous “5 out of 5” from the audience. As a critic, this film is such easy work: I’ll take it exactly as it is. “The Way He Looks” is Brazil’s submission to the 87th Academy Awards, and a near perfect romance.
9.5 out of 10 points
Return to CIFF 2014 Coverage
November 7, 2014 (USA)
1 hr. 35 min.
Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim, Eucir de Souza, Lúcia Romano, Selma Egrei, Isabela Guasco