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SIFF ADVANCE: The Way He Looks - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: The Way He Looks
Directing: A-
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Movies about gay characters in the U.S. have come to be reliable in their comparative lack of quality. There are a few exceptions -- this year, also part of the Seattle International Film Festival, The Skeleton Twins is chief among them -- but generally speaking, these movies are gems in a sea of blah. We still live in a world where it is assumed audiences won't accept a gay protagonist in a major studio film, the only thing we accept as "mainstream" these days. So it's not necessarily the film makers' fault, with such a broad lack of support.

Enter foreign film makers, bringing fresh perspectives far more evolved than those of Americans, even as American attitudes are rapidly changing. Maybe in another ten years we'll get more films like The Way He Looks, featuring a young, innocent, incredibly touching, budding love between two teenagers who just happen to be gay.

The Way He Looks is striking in its lack of institutionalized homophobia. Surely it exists in Brazil, even Sao Paolo, but it's a matter of scale. There is no "coming out" scene, neither to friends or to parents. Even conflict with parents is exclusive to typical teenage desires for independence.

Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) does eventually confess to his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) that he is in love with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), but the drama that ensues has almost nothing to do with the revelation that Leo is gay. It's all about Giovana's own crush on Gabriel, and particularly her jealousy of all the time Leo and Gabriel are spending together.

It's all pretty typical high school stuff, as you can see, but writer-director Daniel Ribeiro offers an unusually incisive debut feature film here, depicting universally relatable teen awkwardness with a unique grace.

Not only is Leo gradually discovering himself to be gay -- it doesn't appear to have occurred to him until now, when he is falling in love for the first time -- but he also happens to have been born blind. So much of how gay men are thought about is tied to not just sex, but sexual imagery, the lack of such an option for Leo gives his story a kind of sensuality not seen in other movies.

There is very little in the way of overt sexuality in this movie, which is a big part of what makes it work. There is a brief masturbation scene with Leo, clearly thinking about Gabriel, but it's over almost as soon as it's begun, and it gets its point across. By the time these two boys have their first kiss, it's one of the most satisfying kisses ever put on screen, gay or straight -- and it isn't sexually charged so much as it's charged with tactile sensuousness.

Leo gets bullied a bit by classmates, but even there, he's bullied far more as a disabled person than as a gay person, although there is a little bit of the latter as well. But the classmates get put in their place in that regard in a perfectly subtle way. And they exist much more as a catalyst for conflict between Leo, Giovana and Gabriel as friends than as overt antagonists.

Even Gabriel is in the process of self-discovery, as far as his feelings for Leo go. In a perfectly staged shower sequence after they've gone swimming, Gabriel has to leave the shower when he realizes he's getting aroused by the sight of Leo -- something to which, of course, Leo is oblivious, since he can't see. And it's fascinating to see the different ways Leo deals with his own budding attraction, given the absence of one of his senses. We've all experienced the power of the scent of someone we love. Imagine what it's like for a blind person, sniffing the hoodie that was left in his room.

The Way He Looks (the original title is Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, literally translated to Today I Want to Go Back Alone) is one of the sweetest movies about young love out there. Somehow, Daniel Ribeiro keeps it from ever getting even close to trite or treacly, an accomplishment indeed in today's cinema landscape. These kids, and their circumstances, feels as real as any person in our own lives. It's impossible not to be touched by such sincere performances of thoroughly realistic characters.

Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim and Ghilherme Lobo are in a particularly different love triangle in THE WAY HE LOOKS.

Overall: A-
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