Review: Exuberant Coming-Of-Age Dramedy ‘The Way He Looks’ Charts Blind Teen’s First Love



Buoyant, clever, sensitive; words can do very little to express the exuberance and authenticity of Daniel Ribeiro’s near-perfect debut feature, The Way He Looks, based on his 2010 short film with the same cast and premise. The film screened this week at NYC's NewFest. A coming-of-age dramedy with a highly original narrative, the movie’s title is provocative for calling into question the ways we “see” the ones we love and just how narrow our worldview may be.

WayHeLooks2At the center of a sun-dappled, pastel-colored Sao Paulo, Brazil is Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo, right), a teenager who was born blind and bears the brunt of several surly bullies' wrath at his suburban high school. He longs for independence from his overbearing parents “like every teenager” director Ribeiro was quick to point out at the film’s talkback. His only real friend is Giovana (Tess Amorim, below left), a neighbor and classmate; they adore each other and spend every day together. Their routine is interrupted by the arrival of a cute new student, Gabriel (Fabio Audi, below right), who becomes fast friends with the pair. When Gabriel and Leonardo pair up for a school project, though, Giovana quickly becomes jealous, and the two boys grow even closer. 

It’d be a shame to give away too much more, but suffice to say that the film takes unexpected romantic turns while retaining a bubbly and heart-warming sheen. It won the Audience Award at NewFest for good reason. The applause following its screening was deafening.

WayHeLooks3Perhaps the most engaging element of the film is the way it film negotiates Leo’s blindness. We are constantly reminded that Leo cannot see the world around him, or even the people he is closest to in his life. One spooky dream sequence finds him interacting with shadowy black-and-white figures of his classmates, but otherwise the film plays with the idea that sound is Leo’s most prominent sense, and that the people around him are privileged to be able to see. When he and Gabriel go to the movies, the camera lingers on their mouths as he describes what is happening on screen, and the sounds of the cheesy sci-fi film are heightened; at another point, Gabriel and Leo sneak out to “watch” a lunar eclipse, a concept which Gabriel struggles to explain to someone who has never seen one.  Leo’s blindness is, therefore, a prominent plot point, one which heightens the tension surrounding he and Gabriel’s relationship with Giovana and each other.

At the film’s talkback, Ribeiro discussed the different vision of love that he hoped the film could present, one based not on the pretense of physical attraction and visual memory, or on fixed notions of sexual orientation. The Way He Looks is not a coming out film in any sense; the word “gay” is never used, Ribeiro stated proudly. Instead he sees it is a natural experience of romantic interest, that someone should fall in love with a person without the confines of a specific label. In this sense, Ribeiro recognized that his film is an ideal vision, though that does not mean the characters exit the narrative unscathed.

WayHeLooks4The Way He Looks deals frankly with jealousy, bullying, parent-child conflicts, and confusing sexual desires. There are tough scenes, and despite the sunny lensing and cheery outlook, every character has faults. Still, rarely have I left a theater feeling as fulfilled, or as happy to have gotten to know the characters on screen. Perhaps because the film’s love story, constrained by lost sight, is the most original, sensitive, and touching one to come along in quite some time.

Watch the film's trailer as well as the original short film (which *spoiler alert* gives away the whole movie), AFTER THE JUMP


  1. Saturnalia says

    Problem is, the movie does not incorporate the megnificent twist ending of the short, rather opting for the more straightforward approach, which is a shame, since it is this specific twists that give the short that greatness.

    If it did opted to keep original ending it would be masterfull. This way it is just another gay movie.

  2. Kakai says

    I saw this movie at Rainbow film festival. I like the short film but the movie also have some touches on the young blind boy’s family members. The father-son relationship is very touching. It’s a very enjoyable movie. I would watch it over again.

  3. oncemorefeeling says

    Enough good things cannot be said of this film. It is wildly loved worldwide for very good reasons. It is that most rare of films — a gay love story that is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

  4. Eric says

    It should be noted that the director was heavily influenced by Beautiful Thing which shows.

    This was by far the best film I saw at the festival (and I expected it to be Blackbird). As somebody with a visual impairment, I never expected to see anything close to my story portrayed on the screen. It was fantastic and easily the best queer film I have seen since Pariah.

  5. anon says

    There are many, many movies like this one w/ nearly identical plots and they always do well at film festivals. Most of them are bad in the sense that they are maddeningly vague, coy and teasing to the audience. Unless you are over 30, you’ve probably only seen one or two of these films and so their dubious merits are not obvious yet.

  6. ANON says

    I’m over 30 and films about teenage boys falling in love makes me jealous. I lead a lonely and miserable life. Making comments here makes my day.

  7. Critifur says

    This film is just wonderful, and filled me with joy in the way that Beautiful Thing did and does)20 years ago. My only quible with your review is that you say unexpected, there is nothing unexpected about it, there is nothing but expectation of the outcome. I agree with Saturnalia, it was disappointing that the clever reveal from the short was dropped in the feature, I was so waiting for that to be played out. There is no logic behind dropping it from the narrative. I still feel good from watching just that bit from the short. I would suggest that anyone watching it when it is released, to watch both the short and the feature back to back to just let it run together. I also think it is pretty fantastic that there seems to be no issue with the angst of being in the closet, it just isn’t “a thing” in this movie and it reflects our new hopeful reality. It was just marvelous. I can’t wait to share it with friends.

  8. wheelie81 says

    I’ve seen the film. The only decent acting, in my opinion, is from the blind kid. The rest is mediocre, at best. I actually preferred the short film better. I felt the full length film was just adding meaningless details that had no real impact on the overall film.

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