Who knew Brazil would deliver the next great coming-of-age tale? In a long line of cinematic classics, ranging from Stand By Me all the way through to Adventureland and Mud in recent years, it often seems to be a genre (if we can even call it that) dominated by American cinema. The Way He Looks will have you believing otherwise.
Brazil’s (unfortunately, unsuccessful) entry for this year’s ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category at the Oscars, The Way He Looks follows Leonardo, a blind teen, and his life-long best friend, Giovana, as the new guy in town, Gabriel, begins to cause tension between the two friends. And with whom exactly is Leonardo going to share his first kiss?
This innocence is one of the most refreshing aspects of the film. While it might have come across as tame, that first kiss symbolises these kids’ worldview exquisitely. Leo isn’t fretting about ‘getting laid’, he just wants someone to share a first kiss with; a very youth-friendly sentiment, mirrored by the 12A certificate. While this may hardly be surprising, the BBFC’s (British Board of Film Classification) decision is far more progressive than you might think. There are a couple of f-bombs, albeit subtitled ones, and alcohol use . . . as well as an instance of nudity and the over-riding sexual liberality. Kudos to them!
But Leo’s quest for love isn’t his only fuel; he’s also driven by a desire to get away from his over-protective parents and to tackle his impairment alone. These scenes of childhood rebellion (again, on a very minor scale) are incredibly well-realised and ring devastatingly true.
His blindness leads to a number of tragic scenes that are intense, but never exploitative or crass, which is a joy to see (no pun intended). These moments are enhanced by the delicate work from the three leads. Ghilherme Lobo (Leo), Tess Amorim (Giovana) and Fabio Audi (Gabriel) all deliver excellent performances and ensure we truly care about these teens. Ghilherme Lobo is particularly impressive and the sheer psychical requirements of inhabiting a role such as this are mind-blowing.
The supporting cast are also equally strong, with some great work from Eucir de Souza, as Leo’s father. They all do a great job of delivering Daniel Ribeiro’s (writer-director) mature dialogue, ensuring these grown-up emotions are given the treatment they deserve. While they may not be particularly ‘adult’ problems, the impressive performances ensure they seem no less important.
And Ribeiro’s great work extends beyond the script. He crafts a number of breathtakingly beautiful shots. In the opening few minutes, we’re given gorgeous birds-eye shots of sun-kissed poolside sunbathing and braille typewriters. Pierre de Kerchove’s (director of photography) work here is Wes Anderson-esque in its precise composition. While this highly stylised aesthetic does drift as the focus shifts onto the characters, it remains a gorgeously shot movie and the school trip towards the end (of which we should all be immensely jealous – Swanage, this is not!) provides some stunning scenery.
In addition to all of this, it’s a film that perfectly echoes my thoughts about experiencing movies and music. One movie-going scene, in particular, is deeply affecting, and seeing two people brought so close by a love of the silver screen is truly beautiful.
Don’t be put off by the minor lull mid-way through, The Way He Looks is a stunningly moving portrait of growing up and falling in love, set against a gorgeous Brazilian backdrop. The film stands as a glorious balance of child-like innocence and deeply complex adult emotions. This is truly a film for the ages.
This review was originally written for Close-Up Film and the film is out now on DVD and VOD, in the UK.