If you think Brazilian cinema is all like City of God, you will be surprised by the simplicity, quietness and calm of The Way He Looks, Brazil’s official submission to the 2015 Academy Awards and the first feature of Daniel Ribeiro.
Based on Ribeiro’s 2010 short, and developed into a feature on the Berlinale Talent Campus of that year, The Way He Looks is a story about teenage love, with the added levels that: first, our protagonist, Leonardo (Guilherme Lobo), is blind and second, his first big love will be for new student and hunk Gabriel (Fabio Audi). With these premises, it would be very easy for the story to go soppy, or sensationalist, but Ribeiro shows skill and manages never to fall into either of those categories. In a way, we can’t help but remind all the fuss about Blue is the Warmest Colour, earlier this year, and realise how superior, in terms of stories of young gay love, this film from the other side of the pond is.
Lobo has the not so easy job of acting without using his eyes, and though at points he seems to feel less natural than necessary, he manages to completely engage us on Leonardo’s story, and deeply care about him. This care, however, is not born out of pity – at no moment in the film we are drawn to feel sorry for Leonardo, either for his lack of sight or kissing experiences – he is a fully fleshed character beyond his apparent limitations. Audi is great, playing the handsome boy that is not sure about himself, and Tess Amorim, that plays third wheel Giovana, shows an incredible promise, as this is also her first role in a feature film.
The cinematography is exquisite. Coming from a country so easily associated with vibrant and saturated colours, Pierre de Kerchove chose a pastel, unsaturated palette and carefully framed compositions, clearly favouring the top shots. It’s just a delight in the eye. And in the ear, as the soundtrack, ranging from Beethoven to Belle & Sebastien, can easily fit our own teenage years. Well, maybe not Beethoven for everyone.
This is a simple yet delicately crafted storyline, perfectly executed. As you watch, you will feel yourself traveling back in time when a kiss meant the world and happiness was only a bike ride away. Not many films manage to fill a 21st century cynical with warmth. The Way He Looks (a curious case where the translated title works so much better than the original) is therefore a rare object, and should be treated as so. With the hope, of course, of more to come.