Life has paused, a battle waged. Social life has been depleted. With proximity identified as a vector for transmission, physical contact was to be curtailed. Sex, hugging, kissing, vital acts of physicality, would have to be forgone. When it comes to love, these behaviors command our attention, overwhelming the senses. And while they are important, as the lockdown set in, I found myself longing for the more subtle acts of physicality, those I had seldom valued. The reassuring hand I wish to place on a relative’s shoulder, once so inconsequential, was now a potentially fatal gesture. These fleeting acts are second nature, occurring beyond conscious reasoning. While always showing balance, romantic movies do tend to focus on the fireworks of love. They make for compelling scenes. The Way He Looks/Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (2014) is a movie that celebrates love in its most silent yet vital form. It offers one of the best philosophies of love I have seen.
The Teddy Award Best Film winning The Way He Looks, written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, employs a familiar narrative, that of a love triangle, and infuses it with novelty. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) is a blind teenager, living under the overbearing control of his parents, in Sao Palo. His best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), remains faithfully by his side. Giovana walks him home from school, the two gossiping along the way, arms linked. Leo’s blindness is almost irrelevant, Giovana’s guiding arm, unnoticed. When they reach Leo’s house, she unlocks his gate. From his doorstep, he waves her goodbye. It is a simple routine, a source of familiarity soon disturbed by the arrival of Gabriel (Fábio Audi), a new student. Giovana is instantly attracted to Gabriel, but her romantic plans go awry. A class project results in Leo and Gabriel spending increasing time together, Giovana pushed to the sidelines. Soon, it is Gabriel walking Leo home, arm in arm, a romance blooming.
Pierre de Kerchove’s cinematography complements the gentle pace of this film, with characters basking in a perpetually warm glow evocative of lazy summer afternoons. We develop remarkable empathy for the leads, with scenes of mundanity so emotionally charged, they are guaranteed to linger in your mind. In his feature debut, based on his short film I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone/Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho, Daniel Ribeiro has provided a masterclass in character development. I don’t know the last time I felt such affection for a protagonist.
The Way He Looks presents simple conflicts, allowing the film to remain grounded in reality. The challenges faced are emblematic of the movie’s moral: learning to surrender the security of habit, not out of choice, but necessity. When Leo tells his mother that he doesn’t want children, she brushes it off. “There’s is no point in forcing things…so much is going to happen…so much will change.” Though advocating the acceptance of change, the real challenges arises when forces outside of our control disturb the peace. Leo threatens his parents’ comfort when he decides to study abroad. For the first time, they confront a reality in which Leo ceases to exist under their protective, dominating command. Giovana must accept shifting social allegiances if she wishes to maintain the friendships she holds dear. Leo must succumb to Gabriel’s advances if he is to move beyond his comfort zone. Leo’s transformation is at the core of this innocent story.
Leo’s blindness provides a startling reminder of what is so easy to forget; that love and sexuality march well beyond the realm of the visual. Love is about building trust through a simply reassuring hand on a shoulder. It is about surrendering control and allowing change, reluctant though we may be. There will be hick-ups, awkward learning curves along the way. The Way He Looks encourages us to recognize the humor in these blunders. The take home of the film is simple. Life changes, but if we relinquish the fear and adapt, goodness will prevail. Granted, this is a painfully idealistic film, but in this day and age, we should ask for little more.
By Boris Abrams
In the UK The Way He Looks is available on Peccadillo Player in the UK as well as Amazon Prime, Apple and BFI Player. And in the US it is available on VOD on Apple, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo and Vudu.