The Way He Looks is Daniel Ribeiro’s first feature film. The movie started it’s life in 2010 as a well-received short, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, which told the story of a blind teenager who falls in love with a new student. That movie climaxed with one of the sweetest stolen kisses I’ve seen recently. I was glad to find out that Ribeiro was given the opportunity to expand the short into a full movie and that the movie is Brazil’s submission for Oscar consideration this year. That submission was probably one of the reasons it was picked up for distribution to US theaters for limited release.
I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone was a very simple budding romance story, and there was quite a bit that could have gone wrong in expanding it to 95 min. There needs to be complications at that length, and complications can ruin simple love stories beyond recognition. The movie actually highlights this issue in the opening scene. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim) laze by her pool and discuss whether they will ever be kissed. They both want their first kisses to be special – romantic, but without drama. Romance without complicating drama is how I’d describe the short, and I wondered what obstacles Ribeiro was going to throw out there to make it more difficult for Leo and Gabriel (Fabio Audi) to get together.
The answer is not too many insurmountable ones. The stolen kiss may come at a different time and setting, but there doesn’t seem to be much preventing Leo and Gabriel getting together except each boy’s initial hesitation in telling the other one of his interest, as well as a few misunderstandings about Gabriel’s relationship with another girl. There actually may be too little drama for those who need some in their romances. Gabriel, in his own way, starts dating Leo before he knows how Leo feels about it – taking him to a movie, sneaking out with him to watch an lunar eclipse (which is really more of a walk in the moonlight), teaching him to dance, then dancing with him at a party – all before stealing that kiss. After the kiss, if there is any tension in the love story, it involves waiting for Leo to realize what Gabriel is up to and for him to let Gabriel know that he’s fine with it.
The expansion from short to feature comes with the addition of Leonardo’s parents and grandmother to the mix of characters. Lúcia Romano plays Leo’s over-protective mother, Laura, and it is really her relationship with Leo that made the movie enjoyable for me. Much of what makes Leo a compelling character is his desire to move away from her rules. For all intents and purposes, Leo is perpetually grounded without having done anything wrong except being born blind. To the film’s credit, Laura is always comes off as caring if over-concerned, even when it would be easy for the film to take Leo’s side and make her overbearing and mean. Leo actually isn’t ready to be independent (and that may be his parents’ fault). When he and Gi and Gabriel fall out, he really isn’t able to do much but sit in his room, so maybe Laura’s rules have a purpose. I had to laugh, however, when Laura was going over her plan for Leo to meet someone and get married. How that is supposed to happen when he’s never allowed to have any time to himself except Wednesday afternoons, I have no idea. My guess is that she plans to pick someone for him.
The Way He Looks is Leo’s movie and Ghilherme Lobo plays the lead role perfectly. But because the focus is on Leo rather than both boys, we don’t learn much about Gabriel, which is a shame. All we know is that he comes from someplace 90 minutes from Sao Paulo, has a brother who likes Belle and Sebastian, and is very nice. After Gi complains that his presence is causing Leo to push her away, he would rather have them patch things up than be seen as an interloper. If he seriously wants to figure out whether Leo enjoyed that stolen kiss, he can wait until Gi and Leo are friends again. That’s very considerate and sweet, and so I guess we should bless this match. They will have plenty of time to get to know one other after their second kiss.
IMDB: The Way He Looks