‘The Way He Looks:’ A beautifully, sensitively directed movieMovie Review Thursday, November 13th, 2014
When you’ve seen as many LGBT-themed movies as I have, after a while the descriptor “gay coming of age” attached to a film makes me sigh. Really, another one? Part of my exhaustion with the genre is that they tend to have virtually identical plots, despite cultural or historic specifics, and another part of my exhaustion is my need, more than two decades after I came of age as a gay person, for stories about gay adults having adult problems, particularly ones that don’t have to do with coming out. (This is one of the reasons I loved the middle-aged gay marriage drama Love is Strange so much.) That said, when I sit down to watch these movies about teenagers discovering their difference, their sexuality and how they are going to perform their gender, I can’t help but identify with the hero and be moved. It’s hard to make comparisons about the intensity of an experience, but if I could, I’d say LGBT teenagers have much more powerful experiences of their adolescence, of their first love, of the first person they tell the truth to. Simply because we have it harder.
In this year’s awards-hungry version of the seemingly eternal story The Way He Looks, Brazilian teenager Leo has it doubly hard. Not only does he yearn for his new friend Gabriel, but he’s blind, too. Before Gabriel arrives at their school, Leo and his best friend Giovana are inseparable. She helps him home, reads instructions on the blackboard and steers him clear of the bullies. Leo is increasingly anxious about independence, and he fights with his justifiably protective parents and starts doing things that Giovana had always helped him do, like unlock his front gate.
Giovana seems to have a crush on him, but then Gabriel, with his curly locks and easy good looks, arrives and Giovana focuses on the new boy. The three of them begin to hang out, and then Gabriel and Leo are paired up on a school project. They talk and joke and compare musical tastes; Leo loves classical, and Gabriel loves Belle and Sebastian. The boys get closer, and Giovana gets jealous, and when she spends time with Gabriel, Leo gets jealous. One night, Leo and Gabriel sneak out so that Gabriel can watch a lunar eclipse and narrate it for Leo. After they part, Leo begins to realize he yearns for the other boy.
Aside from Leo’s blindness, the plot of The Way He Looks is pretty standard for the genre, and the film succeeds on the strength of the performances of the young actors. As Leo, Ghilherme Lobo is particularly impressive, only partly because he performs blindness so believably that I assume Lobo himself couldn’t see. His sweetness, frustration, sadness, confusion and teenage wonder are all easily, naturally communicated. Fabio Audi is Gabriel, and he easily creates the magnetism needed to have half a school develop crushes on him. His chemistry with Lobo’s Leo makes their tentative relationship particularly watchable, adorable and sexy. It’s too bad for Giovana, so perfectly awkwardly performed by Tess Amorim, that she doesn’t register on either of their sexual radars.
The Way He Looks is Daniel Ribeiro’s first feature, and it won the Golden Teddy for best LGBT-themed film at the Berlin Film Festival. The film is beautifully, sensitively directed by Ribeiro, who not only brought out tremendous performances by his young cast but also used Pierre de Kerchove’s naturalistic photography to great emotional effect. Ribeiro’s screenplay rests on too many familiar tropes – he has said that he was inspired as a teenager by Beautiful Thing, which the film too closely resembles – but I look forward to what he does next, hopefully with something more daring and original but just as moving.
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