The Way He Looks


Reviewed by: Sophie Charlotte Rieger

"By sporadically renouncing traditional reverse shots, Ribeiro gives us an impression of what it is like to be denied a certain gaze - but the director uses this effect with caution."

First love is excitement and torture at the same time. We enjoy the butterflies but we also feel awkwardly paralysed whenever the object of our desire is around. So we prefer to observe him or her from a distance: Who is our darling talking to? Does he or she look back at us?

Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), the protagonist of Brazilian movie The Way He Looks, doesn’t know about these things. Not only because he has never had a girl friend and is desperately yearning for his first kiss, but first of all because Leo does not see anything.

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He is blind. His eyes are of no use when it comes to flirting. To witness other people’s behaviours, he depends on the accounts of his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim). Thus she is also the one to tell him that the new boy, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), is actually really cute and conquering every schoolgirl’s heart, Giovana’s included. Even though he cannot see his striking appearance, Leo feels drawn to Gabriel. But instead of giving him the eye he has to get in touch.

Director Daniel Ribeiro films the interaction of the two boys in an almost erotic way. As a blind person, Leo depends on physical contact to other people and thus easily gets close to Gabriel. But how can you differentiate between a helpful gesture, such as offering one’s arm to guide Leo on his way home, and a touch that communicates erotic desire?

Leo doesn’t know and neither do we. Maybe there is no clear boundary between those two gestures. In opposition to the title, The Way He Looks is about how we touch each other to communicate our feelings.

With a strong focus on his central character, Daniel Ribeiro allows for a deep understanding of Leonardo. Having a clear vision, we can only see things from his perspective to a very limited degree. By sporadically renouncing traditional reverse shots, Ribeiro gives us an impression of what it is like to be denied a certain gaze - but the director uses this effect with caution. All in all the film employs traditional cinematic storytelling.

The narrative focuses on love and the emancipation process of adolescence. At first, homosexuality seems to be a third major topic of the story. Very early into the movie we can recognise an interest for the male body on the visual level. Ribeiro shows his protagonist half-naked in the shower. It is obvious that this movie is always more interested in the male than in the female body. So even though we do not know about Leo’s homosexual feelings initially, we can already sense them.

However, The Way He Looks is not a story about a coming out. Leo does not struggle with his sexual orientation. His feelings for Gabriel do not scare him, he understands them as something very natural. Problems do not arise within the protagonist, but in his environment: The school bullies are having a field day picking on the two boys. Nevertheless, Leo never judges himself for being gay and neither do we. Being extremely close to the hero, we as an audience never doubt or judge his sexual orientation simply because he doesn’t. Thus, Ribeiro manages to tell a homosexual love story with an incredible implicitness, but at the same never conceals the problems that society constructs around it.

While homosexuality, of course, plays an important role within the story, it is not one of the hero’s central conflicts. Leo is not so much struggling with his sexuality as with his parents. As every teenager, he yearns for independence and excitement and tends to overshoot the mark. At the same time, his friendship with Giovana is put to the test by his love for Gabriel, because she feels excluded by the male bonding.

The Way He Looks initially appears to be a very special story, dealing with an unusual hero, namely a blind and gay boy. Surprisingly the film is not that “special”, but rather tells a universal story that is able to engage a broad audience. But there are two sides to this. Employing a quite traditional visual style and narrative structure, the film easily moves us but at the same time never exceeds the value of a “pretty movie telling a pretty story”. And unfortunately those movies are rarely those that stick with us for long.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2014
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Story of a blind teenager who yearns for independence.
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Director: Daniel Ribeiro

Writer: Daniel Ribeiro

Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim, Eucir de Souza, Isabela Guasco, Selma Egrei, Júlio Machado, Naruna Costa, Lúcia Romano, Victor Filgueiras

Year: 2014

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Brazil

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