Verified Valentine: ‘The Way He Looks’

By JOHN CARTER JR

Tiger Media Network

Do you remember your first crush? What sensations did their presence elicit? What was your physical and mental reaction to seeing or thinking about this person? When we are alone and have more time on our hands, our minds can drift, filling the time with thoughts about this person. For a young person, this might happen more often than not. Often, it is the people we are close to, our friends, that we become interested in. Remember back to those moments in your youth, and think about what made you like someone in the first place. Think about how that has changed and developed over the years. Do crushes still live in your mind rent-free? Do you find yourself now more than ever falling for people who are close to you in your life? Are the people you’re falling for different from what you’ve expected or what is accepted? 

Giovanna, Leonardo, and Gabriel sit together at school

It’s the season of love all February, and to celebrate, we will look back at some special love stories in our Verified Valentine series. The first entry in this romantic cinema series, we will explore the 2014 coming-of-age romance “Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho,” also known as “The Way He Looks,” directed by Daniel Ribeiro. The film stars Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo, a blind and bullied high school student who spends time hanging out with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) until one day a transfer student Gabriel (Fábio Audi), joins their class. The kids become a trio of sorts, with Leonardo becoming especially fond of Gabriel. The time they spend with each other allows for feelings to grow and the teenage drama between them.

Leonardo and Gabriel Shower after Swimming

To say this film didn’t have the typical tropes of early 2000s through 2010s gay young adult films would be a lie. The film has bullying (in the form of ableist classmates), gay bike rides, a jealous cis woman best friend, showering in the locker room scene, and more. That said, the film is a classic coming-of-age love story with a bit of tension and drama that makes a cute story about first love. What makes the film stand out is specifically how the main protagonists react to the world around them and to each other. For example, being blind, Leonardo is unable to distinguish between certain moments when his classmates are being honest or deceitful with him.

During the shower scene, Gabriel feels shame after looking at Leonardo’s body, as the latter cannot see him doing so. These moments of characterization make this film feel so real and personal. They allow for something more than simple shipping, watching to see gay stuff happen, or using the characters as people to plaster ourselves onto. Rather, it allows us to connect with them as individuals. We can relate with them because of the balance between common coming-of-age experiences and unique facets of their own journey.

The title “The Way He Looks” can be interpreted in two different ways. For Gabriel, it is the way he looks at Leonardo when he is unable to see back at him. Whether this be in the aforementioned shower scene, when they are with Giovanna, or when they kiss the first and second time. For Leonardo, it is not until the last kiss scene, that I understood it. The way Leonardo looks is through his other senses. 

The most striking example of him looking through another sense is when he uses his sense of touch, feeling the environment and the world around him. This kiss scene feels so intimate and personal that, ever since 2017, when I originally watched it, I have come back time and time again to experience this beautiful softness the actors express. Gabriel, who had previously kissed Leonardo at a party after Leo’s bullies were about to make him kiss a dog, says to him later in his room, 

“Leo, if you had ever stolen a kiss from someone, how would you give it back?” 

Leonardo feels Gabriel’s face with his fingertips, gently looking for his lips and placing his hand on the back of his head; he goes for a tender kiss that lasts. The lasting kiss is not typical of earlier gay dramas or romances, where a hidden kiss or simple peck was all you would usually get back in the day. It was this intimacy captured on film that made this film stand out in my memory.

While “The Way He Looks” has the hallmarks of traditional gay coming-of-age stories, it has certain aspects that make it stand out as being among the best. Its portrayal of the main characters, the unique facets of their lives, the commonly experienced moments, and its display of intimacy between the two leads is beautiful. The film reminds LGBT people what it was like to be young and imperfect, not the completely sanitized, wise teenage gays often seen in media today. For anyone watching, it reminds us of a time when the problems of life were much simpler – a time when our worries consisted of who our first kiss would be, whether they liked me too, or what it would mean if they did. 

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