The Way He Looks (2014), dir. Daniel Ribeiro

Back in 2011, I watched an amazing short entitled I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was a ‘proof of concept’ for a feature film. (Many films use this method – including the acclaimed Whiplash recently.) I wasn’t sure about the short being expanded into a feature. The short tells things so succinctly, in a limited space (the school, outside Leonardo’s house and inside his bedroom), with three characters and very little need for much else.

However, the film offers an opportunity to show a wider canvas of the environment Leonardo lives in, including his family, and to go into greater depth with its characters. What only existed as hints in the short or as throwaway lines of dialogue become full-fledged scenes. Many scenes are restaged from a school environment to swimming pools, drunken parties, school camping trips etc. Leonardo sneezing becomes scenes of Leonardo with a cold; Gabriel taking his shirt off becomes a nude shower scene. What was relayed in the short film through exposition (such as the scene of Leonardo introducing himself to the class, conveniently in the last minute) or montages is relayed differently.

wayhelooks1.png

Another element that is expanded is Leonardo’s experience as a blind teenager. He gets bullied and mocked by other kids who push him over; his parents worry for his safety. There’s a great sense of what Leonardo doesn’t see, being unaware of the events going on around him, and asking Gabriel to provide verbal audio description during a film. We get to see more of him using his walking stick, but also of him being aware of things going on through his aural senses and touch; he is not entirely blind.

Through this transformation, what was once a quaint and adorable short film about challenging representations (using a blind and queer protagonist) with ~15 year old schoolkids becomes a broader story about the end of adolescence: wanting to move away from parents and travel the world, drinking vodka for the first time, desire to be kissed. The same three actors from the short film return for their roles, but feel somewhat too old when every other teenage actor seems to be a good couple of years younger than them – Fabio Audi was around 26 when the film was in production – far more noticeable than when he was around 21/22 in 2009/10, whilst Ghilherme Lobo and Tess Amorim were around 18. But perhaps this perception comes about from being acquainted to the short film first rather than the other way around.

wayhelooks3.png

Thankfully, it’s not an LGBTQIA+ film per se. In the short film, Giovana used the word “gay boyfriend”; here she just says “boyfriend”. Even the bullies who mock Leonardo for whatever reason don’t inherently do it because of his sexuality, but for his blindness. In the special features, Daniel Ribeiro discusses how he decided against including a ‘coming out’ scene between Leonardo and his mother, and instead uses vague, gender neutral terms when addressing the subject of relationships. In doing so, it normalises non-heterosexual identities and goes against the idea of the ‘other’.

One of the strongest elements of the short film was, in its brevity, it focuses all of its attention on the events leading up to Gabriel’s kiss. It becomes an in media res ending in which the viewer is left with no idea of how their relationship progresses from there. Thankfully, this element isn’t scrapped in the feature length version. It spends an hour in the events leading up to the kiss, but the bedroom kiss that closed the short film isn’t touched upon until the final scenes of the film.

Unfortunately, it loses the dramatic irony that so brilliantly closed the short film, with Leonardo unsure of who kissed him because of his blindness. There’s still a sense of that here, but it doesn’t have the same effect as the short film.

wayhelooks5.png

If we’re going to go into cliche phrases, in some ways it’s a literal representation of “love is blind”. Other characters ship Gabriel and Leonardo, albeit jokingly; Leonardo worries about Gabriel being interested in another girl. They are blind to what is obvious to their souls and others around them. But it isn’t done in a really obvious way or make a point of it – it’s just there.

It’s not a film about relationships. So much attention is paid in films to the characters getting together in the first half hour, almost as a plot device rather than a deeper exploration, before we go through conflict in the relationship, perhaps a break-up, and they get back together in the final act. Here, there’s no sex scenes, or any intimacy besides intimacy through sight alone; maybe that’s innocent, but it’s also realistic. Because those cliches play over an extended period of time; here, it’s a much shorter period, perhaps a handful of weeks. There is so much anxiety and uncertainties associated that everyone finds with making the (actually pretty big) decision to be in a relationship with someone.

Within two weeks of this film, Gabriel and Leonardo could have broken up. That’s just the territory. But that is not the focus. The focus should not be on overwhelming jealousy and conflict, but on emotion. The pre-relationship period is a story in itself.

Advertisements