The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho is sexy, sweet and, if you’ll pardon the pun, kind of an eye-opener. It’s basically an expansion of the award-winning 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho—shown at the 2012 VQFF and available in full on YouTube—with the same actors, same core characters and a similar but more complex story.
The original plot was fairly straightforward: blind high school student Leo and his BFF Gia are both infatuated with handsome newcomer Gabriel, who becomes friends with both but ends up spending more time with Leo (to Gia’s chagrin). The two boys eventually discover their feelings for each other and the film ends with their kiss. The Way He Looks adds several characters—Leo’s overprotective parents, some school bullies, another girl with the hots for Gabriel—and a few extra layers to the story including, most importantly I think, a huge focus on Leo and his world as a blind teenager. This film is more than an adorable love story, it’s an excellent coming-of-age story as well.
I also appreciate how the film avoided some tired old coming-out clichés: for instance, Leo’s bullying classmates only went as far as asshole homophobic taunts and ableist pranks, never actual bashing. Not only has that been done to death, I don’t think it would have been appropriate in this kind of movie. The bullies did add a little bit of coming-out drama as Gabriel and Leo gradually became more than friends, but they—along with the overprotective parents—mostly helped to justify Leo’s need to spread his wings and test his independence: whether that’s in little ways like unlocking his front door himself or going for a long walk without telling anyone where he is, or in big ways like signing up for a foreign exchange program.
Leo and Gabriel have great chemistry and I loved them in everyone of their scenes together, but especially when one is teaching the other something. In particular Gabriel’s astronomy lesson, when he goes over what a lunar eclipse is all about but then has to explain terms like “illuminated” and “invisible”. He succeeds nicely, using rocks to show the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Moon; as a bonus, it makes for a hilarious callback when Leo later mangles the eclipse metaphor with Gia.
I also want to compliment Ghilherme Lobo, the actor playing Leo. He doesn’t seem to be actually blind (or at least my Googling never mentioned it), but as far as I can tell he absolutely nailed it: never focusing on things with his eyes, even other people’s faces, which must have been a hard reflex to fight; using his hands or other senses to connect with the world; a very closed-off and defensive body language in unfamiliar or tense situations. Kudos for a fantastic performance.
One last point: the short’s title was I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone but Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho translates as “today I want to go back alone”. Interesting. I’m not sure, but it may be a reference to Leo’s growing independence.
The Way He Looks is a super-sweet love story that also made me think about the experience of people with disabilities. A win all around.