This is the fifth installment of my foreign film review blog, Subtitled, originally published in the University of Denver Clarion on August 19, 2018.
I’ve found that every good teen drama has at least one of the following: star crossed love, a love triangle, overprotective parents, lost friendships and/or inner turmoil. The 2014 Brazilian drama, “The Way He Looks” has all five.
“The Way He Looks” (whose Portuguese title “Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sonizho” translates to “Today I Want to Go Back Alone”) tells the story of high school student Leonardo’s struggle for independence and coming of age. It is directed, written and co-produced by Daniel Ribiero, who originally created it as a short film in 2010. It received positive reviews and multiple awards at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.
Imagine reliving high school. Now, imagine doing it blind. That’s the reality for Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), who was born without sight. “The Way He Looks” is not a pity story, though. It is not the story of a blind teenager; it is the story of a funny, interesting teenager who just so happens to also be blind. “The Way He Looks” is very effective in not making a spectacle out of disability. Leonardo is a normal guy who spends most of his time with his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), laying by the pool and complaining about their classmates. He becomes somewhat bored with his life and fed up with his overprotective parents, and he dreams of moving away to study abroad in the United States. Everything changes when he meets Gabriel (Fabio Audi), though, a new student who he and Giovana quickly adopt into their friend group.
Leonardo has never had a girlfriend, and early in the film he expresses concern that no one will ever want to kiss him. When Gabriel arrives, Leonardo starts to better understand what has been holding him back as he develops feelings for his new friend. As Leonardo and Gabriel spend more time together, their friendship blossoms into something much more beautifully complicated. Their romance proves in a very real way that love is blind.
While the specific story being told in “The Way He Looks” is quite uncommon, Leonardo is a relatable character with relatable experiences regardless. Not to mention, there are moments that are so emotionally potent that they will make your heart absolutely flutter. Ribiero paints a charmingly honest look at love (romantic, platonic and familial) and life as an adolescent.
LGBTQ+ movies make up a relatively new genre, but it is rapidly growing. Many of the stories told in this genre are ones of oppression, uncertainty and heartbreak. “The Way He Looks” sets itself apart by avoiding extremes. Just as Leonardo is not defined by his disability, he is also not defined by his sexuality. In literal terms, this is a film about a young, gay, blind man falling in love with one of his best friends. In reality, it is about so much more. It is about navigating life and hardship and making the most of the hand you were dealt.
“The Way He Looks” is available on Netflix, Amazon, the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.