The Way He Looks is a beautiful coming of age story about a young visually impaired boy named Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo). Along with his already obvious struggles, his life is made more difficult when a new student named Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives into his life. Gabriel soon becomes friends with Leo and Leo’s very close friend Giovanni (Tess Amorim). Gabriel’s curly hair and portrayed innocence attract the attention of multiple girls around him, Giovanni included. When Leo and Gabriel are paired up to work on a project together they begin to grow close through a similar interest in music. Giovanni’s jealousy towards the two boys forces her temporarily out of the picture and allows Leo and Gabriel to grow increasingly close. As Leo struggles with bullying at school and overprotective parents at home, Gabriel encourages him to relieve tension through music, dance, and even sneaking out of the house. As Leo’s independence and confidence grows he also begins to realize that the feelings that he has for Gabriel has grown into something more complex. Leonardo is now forced to deal with his desire to be independent while maintaining two very important relationships with Giovanni and his family, as well as the possibility of a new one.
The theme of sexual orientation is dealt in an interesting way in the movie. Not once is the term “gay” used to describe the way Leo feels about Gabriel. Even when Leo tells Giovanni what has been bothering him he simply states that he is in love with Gabriel, as if the gender of his love interest makes no difference. I believe this is what the director was going for, that to Leoand—Giovanni as well—it makes no difference as to the sex of the person that he is attracted to. Leo simply fell in love from the experience and time that he spent with Gabriel, and was never really effected by society’s heteronormative beliefs. The only implications that what they are doing is somehow wrong are the homophobic comments made by another student towards Leo and Gabriel’s growing friendship. The main conflicts in the story are focused more so on Leo’s thirst to be independent and leave home as well as the challenges he faces being blind. His disability is a major focus in the film, and is displayed in a heartfelt way. The film focuses solely on his life and the issues he faces, creating a special connection with the audience. Issues of ableism arise throughout the film when dealing with Leo’s disability. These issues arise in many different forms; from Leo being mocked by a classmate for having to use a typewriter to dictate his notes in class, or his friends asking if Leo has “seen a funny video” or wants to “go watch a movie”. The first example is blatant bullying that happens close to the beginning of the film, and is one of the many examples of discrimination towards Leo in the film. The second example however is different, the comments made by Leo’s friends are not meant to be hurtful they simply display the emphasis in society on being able-bodied. Whiteness is another issue I found to be present in the film. The actors hired to play the various students, teachers, and parents are mostly Caucasian. Even the main characters Leonardo, Giovanni, and Gabriel who are played by Brazilian actors are of light complexion. Just over half of the population in Sao Paulo is white, however the rest of the population is very diverse and I believe the citizens and culture could have been represented better.
On top of the themes of sexuality, friend ship, and dealing with disability, Leo’s parents are a significant part of the film. The importance of family is presented beautifully through the relationship between Leo and his parents and grandmother. From the first family scene in the film it is difficult to not enjoy the friendly banter and affection between family members. It is never revealed whether or not Leo’s parents new about his sexuality, but there were situations that had captured my attention. One of these moments happened when Leo’s mother was taking care of him when he was sick. They were discussing Leo’s future, specifically finding someone to love and have kids with. When Leo denies both possibilities as well as states that there are too many kids in the world already, his mother reassures him that he will find someone to love and that he can adopt. I feel that she chose the word “someone” carefully, opposed to stating a gender. I feel that she was also revealing her positive attitude if Leo chose to adopt a child with his future partner. Along with the scene of Leo’s father, who is portrayed as a very strong and compassionate character, assists Leo with shaving his face are two wonderful scenes that depict the constant love and support that Leo has in his life and will continue to have as he grows older and takes on new challenges.
I truly enjoyed not only the movie, but being an active observer of the LGBT work and progress in this community. The entire night was delightful and I am glad I was able to experience it as well as write about it.