This is a film that has some tremendous surprises in store and exudes a subtlety in revelation that is quite affecting and disarming. Throughout there is a tenderness, and a heartfelt sensitivity to the subject matter at hand that makes the film not only universally human, but one of surpassing beauty and brilliance.
The Way He Looks tells the tale of Leonardo (Ghilerme Lobo), a blind teenager who is struggling for his independence caught between and understandably protective mother (Lucia Romano) and his best friend/champion Giovana (Tess Amorim). When Gabriel (Fabio Audi) moves to town his life gets turned upside down. With the additional layers that inhibit the protagonist’s individuation this is a coming-of-age story that has an additional resonance that most can only dream of attaining.
Both the fact that Leonardo is blind and the fact that he is becoming attracted to Gabriel are handled very subtly upon first being revealed. After almost an entire scene we suddenly notice that Leonardo is just staring ahead blankly and not following movements with his eyes. Similar is the handling of the attraction. As the film develops these factors naturally come to the forefront and become powerful presences.
One of the most fascinating angles this film takes on is naturally the addition of an omnipresent burden or condition that makes the awakening of sexuality, and the self-realization of sexual identity, a bit more difficult. It’s also a quietly made statement about the fact that one’s sexual orientation is merely a part of a person’s identity. When examining the narrative progression in retrospect it’s clear some of his dissatisfaction and desire to find himself, perhaps abroad, has its roots in this as-of-yet unrealized facet of his personality.
The performances in this film are absolutely spot on. Interestingly the cast seems to have made this film at the last possible moment they could have. Any further delay in the production of this feature, following up a wildly successful short film, and the cast would’ve read as too old and playing any younger would’ve played awkwardly. Instead, it works as it should as a case of naturally arrested development, a development no doubt retarded by Leonardo’s disability. Ghilerme Lobo’s ability to emote mostly through his tone and inflection and less so with his facial expression is incredible. On the flipside Audi’s shyness and occasional subsumed reactions, despite the fact that they’re not being seen are great. The scene-stealer of the film would have to be Lucia Romano whose combative, protective scenes with her son are some of the strongest the film has to offer.
When all is said and done the statement The Way He Looks is never overt, but always clear. There are any number of ways you can extrude Leonardo’s blindness into a statement about love, but the film allows you to do that yourself and never says so in so many words. The delicacy of the handling of the story, the warmth it exudes throughout and the investment made in the characters that has you understanding their plight quite well is what makes the film’s conclusion so satisfactory and so well earned. This is without question one of the best films of the year to date and well worth looking out for when Stand Releasing brings it to the US.