Movie Review - The Way He Looks

A remake of Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho, a 2010 short film by the same filmmaker and actors, this Brazilian, coming-of-age tale just happens to be about a gay teen with the even bigger twist of the gay teen being blind. He was born blind and he gets a lot of help, but he's reaching a point where he wants to do things more by himself. In fact, the actual title of this movie is "Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho," which translated from Portuguese is "Today I want to go back alone." This is conflict that he has more with his parents and his home life. Outside of home life, the gay teen who is still closeted to his best friend who happens to be a girl is more concerned with getting his first kiss.

Ghilherme Lobo plays Leonardo or Leo, the blind, gay teen in question. He sunbathes poolside with his best friend Giovana or Gi, played by Tess Amorim. They talk about getting a first kiss, as well as other related topics to teenagers. At school, they hang out all the time. She walks him home everyday and they text each other constantly. They're pretty bonded.

Fabio Audi plays Gabriel, the new kid who enters Leo's class and sits behind him. Gi takes a liking to Gabriel, so invites him into her and Leo's bubble. Things swing and Leo and Gabriel start spending more time alone together without Gi. Ostensibly, it's because they're given a class assignment that separates the two boys or cords them off.

Quietly, a romantic bond starts to form between Leo and Gabriel. Obviously, Leo can't see what Gabriel looks like. Gabriel looks like a Brazilian Douglas Smith, but what might attract Leo to Gabriel is that he forgets that Leo can't see, so Gabriel doesn't treat Leo as if he's blind. They both have a love of music. Leo loves Classical like Bach, whereas Gabriel likes pop music like Belle and Sebastian.

The use of music or sounds is valuable and underlined by writer-director Daniel Ribeiro. There are numerous close-ups of Leo's ear. Ribeiro is even able cleverly to come up with scenes where Leo can still have fun using only his ears in unlikely places like the cinema or during an eclipse.

Ribeiro doesn't do anything beyond that to put us in the shoes of Leo to get us to feel his blindness. One might wonder what it is about people that Leo would find sexually attractive? One scene attempts to address that when Leo masturbates to the smell of Gabriel's hoodie.

Ribeiro does allow us to see through Gabriel's eyes and understand the nature of his sexuality. At one point, Gabriel oogles Leo in the shower. Ribeiro has a camera shot that moves up and down Leo's wet, naked body. Yet, for Leo, he can't oogle a boy's features, so we're not sure what is Leo attracted to.

There was a great opportunity here for Ribeiro to explore what homosexuality is beyond a young gay man being able to see. Considering that homosexuality is regarded as such a superficial culture, Ribeiro could have squashed a lot about that stereotype. Male sexuality in general is regarded as one based almost entirely on looks, so when that's taken away, what does a man go on, especially if that man is gay?

Ribeiro did win the Audience Award for Best Film at both Frameline, the San Francisco film festival, and Outfest, the Los Angeles film festival, as well as awards at almost every film festival it entered. His movie took home the Teddy Award and the Fipresci Award at the 2014 Berlinale, which sets it up as one of the most favored gay films of the year. Personally, I favor films like Lilting and Pride (2014) this year instead, but this movie was sweet.

Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.


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