New movie The Way He Looks is a tender look at the sexual awakening of a blind teenager, writes TIM BAROS
High school student Leonardo is blind. He relies on his parents and his best friend Giovanna to literally guide him through life. But when new student Gabriel enters the classroom, his world changes. A slow-moving love story begins in the new film The Way He Looks.
Leonardo, played convincingly by non-blind actor Ghilherme Lobo, is a young man who doesn't have much independence. He is guided everywhere by his best friend Giovanna (Tess Amorim), including making sure he gets home OK after school. They even investigate the possibilities of going on an exchange program to another country together.
When Leonardo's at home, he's got his parents calling him to make sure he's arrived safely. He's doesn't lead much of an independent life — and his parents nix his idea of going on the exchange program.
At school, he's bullied by the other boys in his class; they tease and taunt him, follow him and make fun of him. And no one wants to sit in the empty desk behind him as he uses a typewriting machine to get through the lessons. One day new student Gabriel (played by a confident Fabio Audi) arrives in the class and takes the only seat that is available — behind Leonardo.
Soon Leonardo, Gabriel and Giovanna all become close friends. And before you know it, Leonardo and Gabriel start hanging out together, leaving Giovanna out. Gabriel starts walking Leonardo home, and they take on a class assignment together which makes them spend more with each other after school. Giovanni decides to stop speaking to them.
Meanwhile, Leonardo and Gabriel's friendly relationship starts to grow — Gabriel takes Leonardo to "see" his first film — narrating it for him, scene by scene. Leonardo also sneaks out of his home very late one night to go "see" an eclipse with Gabriel — it's a moment that brings their friendship closer together.
Meanwhile, Gabriel's got Karina (Isabela Guasco) chasing him. Giovanna calls her a slut, even though she also has a crush on Gabriel, leading her to steal a kiss from him at Karina's house party. He doesn't reciprocate — but in turn he steals a kiss from Leonardo, after Leonardo was humiliated by the young partygoers during a game of spin the bottle where they almost made him kiss a dog. A few days later, the class goes on a camping trip, and finally Giovanna comes around and makes up with Leonardo, leaving Gabriel to be with Karina. Yet, Gabriel isn't interested in her; he's quite aloof when it comes to girls. And when Gabriel showers naked next to Leonardo, it's Gabriel's eyes that start to wander and it's at that moment, touchingly, that we realise that Gabriel wants to be more than a friend to Leonardo.
The Way He Looks is a very lovely film, quite quiet yet very moving. What makes it so are the performances. Lobo is just so sweet as the blind boy who wants to start exploring life on his own. It's a delicately nuanced performance. And Audi as Gabriel is just the opposite. He's a confident yet not cocky young man who takes Leonardo under his wing and guides him through new experiences in life — something no one else has done.
Director Daniel Ribeiro has structured a film where homosexuality is not the central theme — the theme throughout is Leonardo's blindness, it's the love story between Leonardo and Gabriel that is very subtle. The Way He Looks is Ribeiro's debut feature film. It's based on his 17-minute short film "I Don't Want To Go Back Alone' which tells the same story. It won the 2011 Iris Prize (a prize given to a short film with an LGBT theme). Using the same actors, Ribeiro has gifted us with a longer version of his short film that explores a subject not seen in the cinema, gay or straight, the sexual awakening of a blind teenager. The Way He Looks is not just a gay love story, it's a universal love story that everyone can, and will, relate to.
The Way He Looks is out now