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Way He Looks, The
Strand Releasing // Unrated // November 7, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Is it just me, or is calling a film that happens to have two members of the same sex falling in love a "gay film" offensive? We don't call the new Nicholas Sparks films "straight movies," so why title something based upon attraction, rather than on the actual genre that it belongs to? By this notion, writer/director Daniel Ribeiro's The Way He Looks is a drama romance feature that has been submitted as Brazil's official entry into the "Best Foreign Language" category for the Academy Awards. While not particularly groundbreaking, this is an intimate look at love, friendship, and independence. By the time the credits start rolling, you'll be sure to feel a connection with the picture's protagonist.
Life as a teenager is difficult, especially for Leonardo (Guilherme Lobo). As a blind young adult, he's looking for the independence that his parents refuse to grant him, claiming that his situation isn't like that of everybody else. Accustomed to his daily routine with his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), everything changes with the arrival of Gabriel (Fabio Audi), who is the new student in his class. He quickly starts to develop new feelings that he has never had before.
In the first scene, we're introduced to Leonardo sitting by the pool with Giovana. It doesn't take long to discover that he has yet to have his first kiss and his favorite type of music is classical. Needless to say, he doesn't entirely fit in with the majority of his other classmates, leading to some bullying (yes, some of the kids in his class actually bully a blind kid). The film continues to hint at his deep desire for a sexual experience, as directly displayed several times throughout the first two acts. Pressing his lips against the shower glass and utilizing fantasy in order to satisfy his urges, he has a strong desire to express his sexuality. He has no real outlet to experiment, leading to some repression. This leads to an eager want to travel through a foreign exchange program, which his parents are opposed to, for obvious reasons. Ribeiro's screenplay displays a clear link of motives, which truly aid in bringing its protagonist to life.
However, as the film continues to progress, we're introduced to more and more genre clichés that we've seen in countless coming-of-age flicks. Ribeiro has crafted a genuine lead, but his dialogue with Gabriel and Giovana becomes exactly what one would expect. The drama that escalates between Leonardo and Giovana seems believable enough at first, but it transforms into a conflict that feels as if it's there simply to fill up the running time. Even though we're constantly aware of what is to come, the journey itself proves to be captivating. The film may occasionally warrant an eye-roll, but it will never bore its audience for a single moment. The generic tendencies of the picture are compensated for by Ribeiro's ability to show us Leonardo's personal journey, rather than tell us. A large majority of the picture trusts its audience enough to understand Leonardo's urges without directly telling us what is going on within his head.
Even with these issues, The Way He Looks has its moments of sincerity that truly allow the film to flourish. As Gabriel introduces Leonardo to some new music, he teaches him how to dance. Leonardo always believed that his blindness hindered his ability to do anything, such as dance, but Gabriel gives him the support and inspiration that he needed in order to try such things. There are some truly sweet notes found in the picture that truly make us believe in this friendship that continues to offer itself to something more. As we reach the final act, The Way He Looks displays the character development that has taken place within Leonardo. Not only is this a journey of seeking independence and love, but it's also about a young man gaining his confidence and growing into his own person.
This might be his first feature film, but Guilherme Lobo is wonderful as Leonardo. Not only is he entirely fitting in this role, but he brings a sense of sincerity that wouldn't have been there otherwise. Lobo is charming and impactful in a role that many audiences will be able to appreciate. Fabio Audi is also suitable as Gabriel. As the friendship continues to grow between the two, Audi has his moments where he shines. Even though Giovana's drama is perhaps some of the picture's weaker material, Tess Amorim is believable in her portrayal. While not groundbreaking, these performances are natural and convincing.
The Way He Looks isn't necessarily exploring any new ground, as it employs some of the clichés that we've come to complain about over the years. However, writer/director Daniel Ribeiro still manages to deliver a truly genuine look at a young love that grows from an endearing friendship. This is a film about love, sexuality, independence, and a teenager's road to confidence. It's an impactful venture into the life of a young adult, who simply wishes to experience life in a new way. Ribeiro employs a variety of subtle nuances in the picture that aid the film in its sincere storytelling. The Way He Looks is a delightful and touching look at young love. Recommended.