The Way He Looks

Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro’s first feature seems perfectly suited to be his country’s bid for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. If only that were a compliment. A sometimes gratingly sensitive peek at the moderate exigencies of middle-class São Paulo adolescence, The Way He Looks doesn’t dare break any new narrative ground, remaining conventional to the point of servility, and just too nice to seem true. Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind teenager with burgeoning wanderlust, is doing his best to fend off school bullies and a hovering mother. Then sparks fly during a homework hangout when Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the cute new boy in class, encourages Leo to trade up to Belle & Sebastian from imperturbable, less danceable Bach. Of course this won’t go over well with Leo’s best gal pal Giovana (Tess Amorim), who’s had an eye on Gabriel herself. And of course it’ll all work out, in a gently affirming way. Awash in milky soft lighting and very agreeable to behold (yes, it’s a shame Leo isn’t seeing this), the movie is well-acted all around (among other things, Lobo isn’t actually blind), and Ribeiro’s tenderness toward his characters is touching, if not transcendent. But for a story about identity not being a pigeonhole, The Way He Looks just seems rather too tidily boxed up. It may well have a shot at that Oscar, but isn’t exactly a must-see.