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Sunday, June 5, 2016
Daniel Ribeiro | Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks)
gay teens in love
by Douglas Messerli
Daniel Ribeiro (writer, based on his short film I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, and director) Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks) / 2014
Daniel Ribeiro’s 2014 Brazilian film, The Way He Looks belongs to a growing tradition of teenage films in which gay teen males fall in love for the first time. Generally, these movies—although often touching and positive—portray the difficulties of coming out at that early age and the problems that result with peers and family.
The Way He Looks is somewhat different simply because the hero of this tale, Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) not only does, at first, not know that he is gay, but has been blind from birth. He has never seen a man or woman, and obviously any attraction to someone arises not from what they look like, but from what they say and how they relate to him.
Certainly the young Leo has difficulties with his peers and family. Some of his classmates taunt him for being blind, complaining of the noise his braille writing machine makes, and sneaking around him in order to trip him up when he attempts to walk alone. His parents, on the other hand, are overprotective, insisting he call when he daily returns home, and delimiting his activities. As a kind of reaction against their attempts to insulate him from harm, he secretly plots, with his girlfriend Giovana (Tess Amorim), to join a student exchange program. His plans are dashed, however, when he discovers that he must first receive his parent’s permission.
Despite these few difficulties, however, Ribeiro’s Leo seems to be, if a bit bored by his life, a terribly balanced kid, liked by many of his classmates and beloved by his parents. He cannot know, also, how beautiful he is.
When a new boy, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), arrives, he readily sits in the empty seat behind Leonardo, which some of his classmates have previously refused. Girls in school are immediately attracted to Gabriel, whose looks Gia praises to her friend, and the most promiscuous girl in the school, Karina moves in for the kill.
Strangely, however, although he remains affable to women, Gabriel is somewhat standoffish, and quickly develops a friendship with both Gia (who is hardly a beauty) and Leonardo. When students are assigned projects that require same-sex partners, Gabriel suggests and he and Leonardo team up.
Although there are some big differences between them—Gabriel likes popular music, while Leonardo (in real life, the actor is also a ballet dancer) prefers classical—but they seem quite ready to share their experiences, Gabriel attempting to show Leonardo how to dance, and Leonardo attempting to share his Braille alphabet. Before long, Gabriel is helping his new friend experience things he never before: taking him to a movie (where he whispers much of the imagery), taking him on a late-night outing to “see” a lunar eclipse (which he explains with the use of rocks), and taking Leo on bicycle rides. All of these activities, of course, involve touch, so the very tactile nature of their relationship affects them both.
Before long, Leonardo begins to comprehend that he is falling in love. When Gabriel “accidentally” forgets his hoodie at Leo’s place, (an incident which, Ribeiro admits happened with when he was a teen) Leo holds the coat close to him, smelling it and masturbating simultaneously.
Both boys are confused by their feelings, and their other friendships help to stoke that confusion. Gia is angered by Leonardo’s seeming abandonment of their friendship, and is ultimately angered by Gabriel’s seeming attentions to Katrina.
Obviously, Leonardo cannot, literally speaking, see what’s going on. He can only sense that Gabriel may be pulling away. When he attends a party, at Gabriel’s urging, Gabriel appears to leave him, forcing Leo to participate in a seemingly innocent kissing game. Both Gia and Leonardo have previously complained that they have not yet ever seriously kissed someone, and it appears that, perhaps Leonardo, will now have his first “real” kiss. One of his hecklers, however, picks up a dog posing it to meet Leonardo’s ready lips. Fortunately Gia sees what is happening and forces her friend to leave. Gabriel joins him and offers to drive him home his bike. But rebelling against their good intentions, just as he has with his parents, Leo complains that they will not even allow him his first kiss. Impulsively Gabriel quickly kisses him on the lips and speeds off.
Once again, the two boys seriously communicate, Leo asking Gabriel outright if he has “hooked up” with Katrina. Gabriel admits that she has made the attempt, but that he has refused her because he likes someone else. When prodded who that someone else might be, Gabriel claims that he has already briefly kissed this person. When Leo perceives that he is the one, the two quickly engage in some serious kissing.
A last scene, somewhat later, shows the three teens walking home, Leo and Gabriel arm in arm. When the same taunters tease the two for what looks like a “queer” relationship, Gabriel links his hands with Leo, proving that their relationship is a true one, strangely quieting their hecklers.
Surely, Ribeiro’s world is a highly romantic one. One can imagine, even today, that if two such students had so publically proclaimed their gay love, there may have been far more serious consequences. But that is, in many respects, just why The Way He Looks is such a joyful alternative. These young people are allowed to enjoy the romance which has developed so innocently and naturally, instead of being punished or undergoing deep angst. And even if we recognize this work as being somewhat of a fairytale, it is one we can all hope might soon exist in real life—and will change all of our lives. Or perhaps…things may already have, if this film is any reflection, changed.
Los Angeles, June 5, 2016