It’s remarkable how The Way He Looks defiantly refuses to be categorically pigeonholed in cinema. Not for a single moment the word ‘gay’ is uttered and no conventional reference to the gender term is solely addressed. Appropriate then, that a film about blindness refuses to locate its characters in a stringent box, suggesting that our sense of sight affects our deep-seated social prejudices and preconceived notions about gender and equality. That the way we ‘look’ plays a great role in how we feel as humans. So to define Daniel Ribeiro’s debut film as an entry to LGBT cinema is perhaps mistreating it, as it technically works as any teen movie out there, complete with dysfunctions, hormonal urges, fledgling romance, competition and heartbreak.[divider]+[/divider]
This film, which is about blindness, refuses to locate its characters in a stringent box, suggesting that our sense of sight affects our deep-seated social prejudices and preconceived notions about gender and equality.[divider]+[/divider]
Aesthetically, this is conventional filmmaking through and through, never really emerging from its pedestrian framing and cinematic palette with Ribeiro not for once straying in style and execution. His characters languish around swimming pools, partake in house parties, outdoor camping and strategises hours of school homework in rooms literally suffused with nostalgic light while they listen to Belle & Sebastian, waxing to completion the halcyon visual and aural experience of the wistful teenage movie. Narratively speaking, this is a well-trodden trajectory in the teen chronicle – a good-hearted yet markedly ‘different’ protagonist with a charming and ever-so-witty female best-friend-cum-sidekick who both share a status quo that’s soon disturbed by the arrival of a hot young twink in school. The twist in the tale involving these Brazilian teenagers is that its protagonist Leonardo is blind and thus forever incapable of figuring out how hot his new l‘objet de l’amour looks like.
But to set my trashy humour aside, Leonardo’s disability is treated with sensibility, even allowing the character to staunchly fight for independence and equal treatment, especially from his overprotective parents. The two other supporting players, BFF Giovana and curly-haired Adonis Gabriel, have less complexity but not without humanity. They both become the bedrock to Leonardo’s understanding of his sexuality and self-acceptance, as well as his unerring defiance against crass bullying from his schoolmates. It all takes one swift look the film’s final shot – simply executed yet progressive and purposeful. Two guys holding hands like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And for the rest of those who stand and gape and condemn, they look and constrict themselves to quick judgement rather than using their eyes as conduits for seeing, understanding and social tolerance.