October 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) may be blind, but he’s not about to let that stop him from living a full and normal life. His parents, however, are unconvinced, and insist on knowing his whereabouts even when he’s with longstanding best friend Giovanna (Tess Amorim). Desperate for independence, he looks into the school’s exchange programme, discovering an American agency which specialises in blind students. This surprises Giovanna, who has long suspected that their friendship might be on the verge of becoming something more. Their relationship is further strained by the arrival of Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a new student for whom Leo soon develops feelings of his own. Her friend’s plans to leave may be on hold, but Giovanna’s relief is short-lived.
Brazil’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards, The Way He Looks debuted in Scotland at the Aberdeen Film Festival shortly after its UK premiere at London Film Festival. Adapted from director Daniel Ribeiro’s own short film, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, it also sees actors Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim reprise their roles. Far from feeling like a 17-minute short stretched to feature length, however, The Way He Looks has been given a new focus, a full compliment of supporting characters and a more developed story. It also has a great soundtrack.
Lobo is terrific in the leading role, doing little to draw attention to himself and yet proving quietly captivating nonetheless. Leo longs not just for independence but for intimacy, and it’s his own conflict of interests that produces much of the drama. Mostly, however, the film is pleasantly understated. The film is full of firsts for the character — first drink, first dance, first kiss — and each is handled as sensitively as the next. There is such gentleness to it, both in Lobo’s performance and Ribeiro’s direction, that even the simplest scenes leave a lasting impression — be it Leo smelling his friend’s forgotten jumper or idly pressing his lips against the screen while showering. It’s so tender; so tactile.
Both Leo’s blindness and sexuality are well handled, receiving ample attention without ever being allowed to dominate the narrative. The school bully, Fabio, naturally has an axe to grind, but their antagonism is never central to the story — instead it feels as incidental as the traits he seeks to mock. When Leo and Giovanna fall out at a house party hosted by fellow student Karina, it has nothing to do with the fact that Fabio tried to trick him into kissing a dog and everything to do with their own frustrations and jealousies. As far as Leo knows his best friend has just “saved” him from kissing the prettiest girl in school. Giovanna and Gabriel, meanwhile, are great characters in their own right, and their scenes together in Karina’s toilet are some of the film’s best.
Minor quibbles aside (the exchange programme is left dangling while Giovanna’s story is perhaps too neatly resolved) The Way He Looks is an endearing, insightful and even strangely innovative look at adolescence — seen for once not through fresh eyes but a different sense entirely: touch.