VOD film review: The Way He Looks
Heart-warming moments that will have you grinning for days10
Sensitive handling of themes10
Emotionally engaging performances10
Matthew Turner | On 05, Feb 2015
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Cast: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim
Watch The Way He Looks online in the UK: BFI Player / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Rakuten TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Brazilian writer-director Daniel Ribeiro expands his award-winning short film I Don’t Want To Go Back Alone into this full-length coming-of-age drama, whose original title translates as Today, I Want To Go Back Alone, a subtle difference that reflects a shift in focus between the two films. The result is a sensitive exploration of blindness, sexual identity and first love that ranks with the very best teen movies.
Set in present-day Sao Paolo, the film stars Ghilherme Lobo as Leo, a blind Brazilian teenager who’s inseparable from his devoted best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim). However, their relationship is unbalanced by the arrival of cute new boy Gabriel (Fabio Audi) and Giovana becomes jealous when Leo asks Gabriel to lead him home after school instead of her. Meanwhile, unaware that Giovana has a crush on him, Leo finds himself falling for Gabriel, while also struggling to gain a measure of independence from his over-protective parents (Lucia Romano and Eucir de Souza) by announcing his desire to attend a Study Abroad programme in the States.
Ribeiro gets a trio of terrific performances from his young leads, all three of whom reprise their roles from the original short. Lobo, in particular, is extraordinary, utterly convincing in his blindness and projecting a warmth and a sense of calm that is extremely appealing. Amorim is equally good, allowing her facial expressions (which of course Leo can’t see) to tell the audience everything about Giovana’s true feelings for her best friend; her dawning sense of powerlessness in the face of their shifting dynamic is utterly heart-breaking.
Ribeiro’s control of the tone is assured throughout, with the subtle changes between the three friends feeling natural and organic rather than forced. Similarly, Ribeiro’s sensitive and sharply observed script finds emotionally effective ways of conveying Leo’s emerging feelings for Gabriel, with his remaining senses compensating for the loss of his sight – for example, the way he inhales Gabriel’s left-behind hoodie after they’ve worked on a school project together, or the thrill of new experiences (one overt, the other covert) when he clings onto Gabriel as he gives him a ride on his bike.
The film is packed with wonderful scenes that will strike a powerful emotional chord with anyone who’s ever suffered similar agonies of adolescence – it also has significant echoes of Lukas Moodysson’s equally delightful, similarly-themed debut, Show Me Love. On top of that, it has a terrific, carefully chosen soundtrack – the scene where the two boys bond over their different musical tastes is one of several perfectly observed moments.
A beautifully made, genuinely romantic coming-of-age drama that marks writer-director Daniel Ribeiro out as a future talent to watch. Unmissable.
The Way He Looks is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.