Leonardo (Ghilherme Wolf) is an intelligent blind teenager who, despite his over-protective mother, wants to be more independent. Against the advice of his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), he begins to make plans to become an exchange student and live abroad, hopefully in the US. The arrival, at his school, of Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a handsome young student, makes Leonardo have second thought about his plan to move away in “The Way He Looks.”
With his first feature film, Brazilian director-writer Daniel Ribeiro creates something more than just a gay coming of age story. This is due, mainly though not solely, to a fine performance by 19-year old Ghilherme Wolf as blind Leonardo. The convincing way Wolf depicts being blind, not an easy task for any actor (think of Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark,” which garnered her an Oscar nod), show a great deal of acting ability. The young actor is joined, quite well, by Fabio Audi, as Gabriel, and Tess Amorim, as Giovana, Leo’s BFF, as the other two sides of this very different, and sweetly delivered, love triangle.
There is more to “The Way He Looks” than just the above, though. One strong theme is how the weak (in this case, blind Leonardo) are bullied by the stronger kids just because they are weaker. Another is the overprotective attitude of Leonardo’s parents, particularly his mom, who vehemently says “NO” to Leo’s plan to be an exchange student. This spawns a story thread of Leonardo seeking more independence in his overly controlled life, defying his mother’s concerned authority in little ways – like sneaking out at night to “watch” a lunar eclipse with Gabriel. (This leads to a nifty little seen where Gabriel explains (quite clearly so even I could understand it) to sightless Leo how the eclipse works,)
Then, there is the long-time BFF friendship between Leo and Giovana (or, Gi), although she has always hoped for more intimacy between them. Add to this mix the handsome and gay Gabriel and his charismatic charm and both Leo and Gi have someone else to think about. Writer Ribeiro shows a talent in creating a believable YA story that is not conventional in style, content and tone and directs his young cast with a deft hand. I give it a B.
The 2014 Brazilian entry for the Foreign Language film Oscar is a sweet coming of age tale with a twist - its protagonist is blind and also discovers he's gay when he meets the new boy in school, much to his long time best friend Giavana's dismay. Featuring the music of Bach and Belle & Sebastian, "The Way He Looks" is a charming look at first love and breaking free. B
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