By Tirdad Derakhshani
All Leo wants is a normal life as a normal teenager — to explore freely the world around him, to give expression to his hormones, to be left alone to brood to Beethoven’s string quartets.
But his overprotective parents, worrywart mom Laura (Lúcia Romano) and infinitely compassionate dad Carlos (Eucir de Souza), won’t have any of it.
They fuss over him as one would a newborn; they don’t let him go out at night or allow him to stay home alone when they’re out of town.
As they never seem tired of telling him, they’re doing it for his own good. After all, a blind kid just can’t survive on his own.
Played with soulful sensitivity by Ghilherme Lobo, Leo is the wonderfully sympathetic, lovable hero of the heartwarming, bittersweet, and moving Brazilian teen dramedy “The Way He Looks.” Blind since birth, the São Paulo native lives a carefully prescribed existence shuttling from his parents’ handsome house to his maternal grandmother’s place to his high school.
On lazy afternoons, he fantasizes about escape, about daring adventures across the seas, his head resting on his best friend Giovana’s (Tess Amorim) lap.
The duo — never a couple, though Gio longs to change that — are inseparable. Gio reads to him, walks him from and to school, shields him from the class clowns and bullies who mock his every move. (They refer to Gio as Leo’s seeing-eye dog.)
Leo’s life changes dramatically with the arrival of a new transfer student, a young dreamboat named Gabriel (Fabio Audi). At ease, laid-back, a natural when it comes to social niceties, he has the girls atwitter.
But he chooses to befriend Leo, and the two boys form a strong, deep bond.
Writer-director Daniel Ribeiro, who makes his feature debut here, uses spare writing and strong visuals to explore Leo’s growing attraction to Gabriel and his initial fear and confusion.
“The Way He Looks” almost collapses at several points into a saccharine mess, but Ribeiro manages to keep the dramatic tension alive. It’s the kind of film that might not survive a cynical eye. To enjoy it, one needs to surrender to its poetry, its languid pace, and dreamlike rhythms.
Those who give into its spell will find this a gentle, moving and deeply intelligent portrait of the awkward, fumbling steps teens make into adulthood, and the promise of first love that draws them on.
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