Friday, November 7, 2014

Brazil's entry into this year's Oscar sweeps: Daniel Ribeiro's charming THE WAY HE LOOKS

Sweetness and charm can go a long way in making a movie a pleasurable experience, and those two qualities are in abundance in the very sweet and charming Brazilian high-school-rom-com-cum-the-handicapped-and-homosexual, THE WAY HE LOOKS (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho), which turns out to be Brazil's entry into the 2014 Oscar sweepstakes. Written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro (shown below), from an earlier short film he made back in 2010, the film is an easy watch as it probes lightly but effectively into high school, the blind, and the lovelorn.

Mr. Ribeiro has a way with words and visuals, as well as with his actors, all of whom seem to be playing in that once-removed space in which they seem "real" but maybe not quite as real as would an actual group of high school kids. Everyone is "natural," though a bit bereft of the kind of specific behavior that distinguishes actual people. These kids seem to exist for the purpose of playing out the filmmaker's feel-good, "There's a lid for every pot" philosophy. And as long as you don't object too strenuously to this sort of thing, The Way He Looks should give you a very good time.

Our non-sighted hero, Leonardo (or just Leo, played by the gorgeous and so-believable-you'll-imagine-they-chose-a-blind-actor-to-play-the-role Ghilherme Lobo, above) is feeling held back by his overly cautious parents, who have probably over-supervised him throughout most of his life (the character was born blind). Teased by many of his peers at school, below, he has only one good friend,

a schoolmate named Giovana (played by Tess Amorim, below), and the two talk about kisses and love and what the future might possibly hold for them. Life rolls along pleasantly enough (except for those stupid school bullies), and Leo is even considering trying an foreign exchange program for the non-sighted) when...

...into the classroom strolls a new kid, Gabriel (Fabio Audi, below, left) with gorgeous, curly, black locks (which our hero of course cannot see, but we sure can), who takes an immediate shine to Leo and Giovana and before you can say three-way!, a friendship develops -- and maybe moves on to something more. But for whom to whom remains a question.

There a birthday party featuring spin-the-bottle, fights with parents, a class trip, swimming sessions, and even a shower scene, as relationships heat up. Along the way there are two particularly lovely scenes, one involving dad giving son his first shaving lesson, and another -- momentously romantic -- in which, when Gabriel leaves behind his jacket, Leo picks it up to inhale its perfume.

Moments and scenes like these go a long way toward making The Way He Looks an easy-going treat. The film, from Strand Releasing and running just 93 minutes, opens today, Friday, November 7, in New York City (at the Village East Cinema, in Los Angeles (at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas) and in several other cities across the country. It will expand to further cities in the weeks to come.

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