Monday, November 10, 2014

"The Way He Looks": gentle coming-of-age story from Brazil presents gay perfection

The Way He Looks” (“Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho”), a new film by Daniel Riberio, is an uplifting, gentle gay male comedy whose title bears some irony. The film is shot in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with at leadt one scene (the science field trip) in the scenic highlands nearby. 
The protagonist, as the movie opens, is teenager Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), blind from birth.  He has no idea what a visual impression of anyone is. In the openings scene, he relaxes near a swimming pool with a girl friend Giovanna (Tess Amorim).  I don’t know whether Leo’s actor is sighted, but he plays the blind part convincingly.
Leo uses a noisy braille machine at school, which annoys his classmates, and he is subjected to some bullying.  He finds his parents hold him to a tether, objecting when he seems to have found a foreign exchange program that accepts blind students and would send him to France or the US. 
Things change when the school gets a new student, the lanky Gabriel (Fabio Audi), named after a famous Biblical angel.  Gabriel is something like a Clark Kent, only without explicit supernatural powers, although you expect them to manifest any moment.  He takes Leo under his wing as his friend and fends off the teasing.  He works as the partner on a classroom history assignment about Sparta and Athens (in ancient Greece).  That’s interesting, because Sparta was a military culture that kept men in uniform until 60 and which (in a manner later followed by the Nazis) killed “unfit” children. 
Gradually, through some well times progressive steps in a 95-minute film, Gabriel and Leo become closer, and ready to become lovers, to the consternation of girl friends who long for both of them.  It’s notable that all the straight boys around are much less interesting.
The surroundings look like those of the upper middle class, complete with luxury, cell phones and Internet.  We see nothing of Brazil’s slums or rich-poor problem.  (In fact, a few years ago CNN – “We Were Warned” -- had presented Brazil as ahead of the economic game on energy in using sugar cane for all of its auto fuel.)   Most of the characters are European in origin and appearance, as if they belonged on the streets of London.  (After all, both Spain and Portugal were settled by Norse invaders two millennia ago.)  The camera (in 2.35:1 aspect)  often lingers on the teen young men, just at the biological start of adulthood, showing hairy legs and almost smooth chests.  Leo has just a touch of baby fat in a few scenes, but Gabriel is, well, absolutely perfect.  So was Tom Welling in “Smallville”.  Perhaps the camera eye does say a lot about contemporary gay values. Again, Leo has no visual concept of this can only “feel”.  Yet, male sexuality is so driven by visual cues. Does "lookism" rule.  Should it matter what people look like, or if they can change that as in "Sartor Resartus"?  Remember "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"? Or for that matter, Randy Harrison's charismatic character in the Showtime series "Queer as Folk".  
Tumblr site for the film is here.  The production company is Lacuna, and in the US theatrical release is from Strand.  The DVD will probably follow from Strand soon.  Following Portuguese is not like following Spanish (but there are titles). 
I saw the film at Landmark E-Street in Washington, arriving just in time, before a Sunday afternoon audience two-thirds full.  The music score is interesting, with a famous Bach passage, the Schubert Piano Trio in E-flat, and some David Bowie.   

Wikipedia attribution link for Brazil map

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