Film Review: The Way He Looks

“The Way He Looks” features a blind teenager, Leonardo, who searches in vain for a sense of independence that he cannot seem to accomplish with the unwarranted protective gestures of both his parents and his best friend, Giovana. Everything takes a turn with the arrival of a new kid at school, Gabriel, who guides Leo through new avenues of exploration.

One theme that permeates the entire plotline is ability. The very first scene is indicative of the approach the director takes in addressing Leo as a differently abled teen; he incorporates it as an aspect of Leo’s identity, instead of incorporating Leo into a discussion of able-ism. Leo and Giovanna are laying by the pool having a discussion about kissing, and though Leo’s gaze does not fall directly on Giovanna’s face, one does not immediately deduce his visual impairment nor is the audience forced to focus on it. Rather, it is simply a scene of two teens having a juvenile conversation. As the scene continues, one naturally comes to realize his blindness, and personally I felt embarrassed at my flinching reaction when Leo jumps into the water at the end of the scene. I imagine this was the intent of the director.

Leo’s parents and Giovana are reluctant to allow Leo to take control of his own life. From a curfew inappropriately early for his age, to Giovana insisting that she put the key in the door for him, it is evident towards the beginning of the film that Leo has passively accepted a false sense of lack of ability that extends beyond his physical impairments. His internalized able-ism is shattered when Gabriel enters his life and provides the confidence and opportunity for Leo to explore abilities he never knew he could have (i.e. going to the movies), and his newly attained sense of ability is symbolized when Giovana once again tries to unlock a door for him, and he insists he does it himself.

The class bullies depicted in the plot are all male, exhibiting a classic modern day manifestation of hegemonic masculinity. In Gendered Worlds, hegemonic masculinity is defined as a set of social practices designed to emphasize a male’s “normative” masculinity, features of which involve being heterosexual as well as dominant to women. At first glance, it seems as though Giovana holds her own when she stands up for Leo in opposition to these boys. A further analysis shows that in fact, Giovana often times exits the conflict in frustration while the males remain in satisfaction. This can be interpreted as a subtle display of a common stereotype that women are emotional and less capable than men. Additionally, the aforementioned bullies craft offensive jokes designed to tackle their suspicions that Leo and Gabriel are both homosexual. It is refreshing to see that the film was designed to acknowledge the existence of such stigma surrounding homosexuality that continues to exist today, and to do so in the context of adolescent milieu.

The bullies not only target Leo for their suspicions that he is homosexual, but also for his different ability. Their comments are often essentialist assumptions, declaring untrue comments about Leo’s identity that were extrapolated only from the fact that he is blind. For example, in the earlier parts of the movie, one scene displays a classmate declaring that Leo must be academically challenged and refuses to sit near him. The script for this scene made me cringe but was effective in the sense that it acknowledges essentialist reasoning that people often give for being presumptuous towards those with different abilities.

My personal qualm with this film was that it fails to acknowledge racial and ethnic minorities in the context of the plot. There is no representation of any ethnic group other than those of Brazilian descent (as far as one can tell). Perhaps this is the out of the scope of the argument the director aimed to target with this plot line, but in my humble opinion, a product that claims to promote discourse on homosexuality and able-ism cannot maintain full integrity without considering a cross-cultural variation in perspective or what ethnic diversity changes for the sequence of events of those involved.

The Reelout Film Festival provides an extremely unique and welcoming atmosphere that very obviously caters to a wide portion of the demographic of the Kingston community. I arrived at the Screening Room an hour early to ensure a spot in the screening, and was surprised to see that there were four people that had come even earlier. Throughout the hour the line accumulated about 30 eager Kingston residents and students, and unfortunately the capacity of the theatre was not able to accommodate everyone. The only seat left was near the very corner of the back row but I was thrilled to be there nonetheless. As it was one of the first screenings of the festival, Matt Salton gave a small spiel before the commencement of the film, to inform the audience of the upcoming screenings, as we as to announce the contest winner of a basket of goods from local businesses (I cannot say that I was not jealous of the winner). I frequent the Screening Room, and I have never seen a full house like I did that night. It is evident that the Reelout Film Festival is catering to the interests of the community and I am confident in their potential to further the growth of this incredible event.

Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari. “Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory.” Disability & Society 23.2 (2008): 151-162.

Judy Aulette Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Words, Second Edition. (New York: Oxford, 2012)

Martino, Wayne. “‘Cool boys’,’party animals’,’squids’ and’poofters’: interrogating the dynamics and politics of adolescent masculinities in school.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 20.2 (1999): 239-263.

The Way He Looks. Dir. Daniel Ribeiro. Vitrine Films, 2014. Film.

Film Review: The Way He Looks

4 thoughts on “Film Review: The Way He Looks

  1. pennatucky says:

    It is clear from your film review, that the film depicts how society treats differently abled people. It seems like western society demonizes and alienates people who do not or cannot meet society’s standard of what a ‘normal’ person should be like. This manifests its self institutionally throughout welfare systems, education and employment policy and even legal institutions. However many people forget that the effect of institutional ableism filters out into the rest of society, enabling the oppression and exploitation and exclusion of differently abled people on an interpersonal level. From this review, its seems like the director has taken into consideration the ‘social model of disability’, where by there is an understanding that a person is stigmatized and unable to complete certain acts because of social and societal barriers. It is refreshing that this film combats the stigmatization f not only differently abled people, but also of non-hetronormative visions of sexuality. It would be interesting to see how one would bring in aspects of race, class and gender into it as well.

    This film review was all encompassing, you really capture the vibe of the film. From watching only the trailer, one can see that this film is a tear jerker. I would also have liked to have seen this film and hopefully I will be able to at some point in the future.

    Also, that seat in the corner on the back row, is not a good seat you are basically behind a wall. Im glad I never had to sit in it.


  2. redjr21 says:

    I appreciate your in-depth discussion of the differently-abled. From your film review, as well as the trailer included, it is clear that ability is a dominant theme in this film, perhaps more dominant that Leo’s homosexuality. It seems infrequent that blindness is depicted in the mainstream media, and I like that you point out the condescension Leo experiences as a result of his being blind. It seems that Gabriel’s character would be one who enables Leo to be himself and have new experiences, with regard to his being blind, as well as his sexual orientation.

    I understand why you pointed out the lack of racial and ethnic minorities – everyone is Brazilian, and the film therefore lacks diversity. However, I think it is nice to see a film that is produced outside the United States. The media is dominated by American imagery, or that of Western Europe, continuing to enforce a “model” of whiteness. While the film does not have a diverse cast, as everyone is Brazilian and speaks Portuguese, I am enticed by this film, simply because it breaks from the standard American film. As well, the film is closed captioned, and this enables a wider audience to view the film, while other films at the festival might not have had this feature. Despite all this, I completely agree with you that racial and ethnic diversity could have been better addressed by the film makers.

    You have really sold your reader on watching the film, with your description of its plot, as well as it’s high demand on the day you saw it!


  3. I think you did a terrific job with your film review, as it was very clear and easy to follow. I enjoyed how you incorporated your own opinion and insight at the end of each paragraph as well as including a whole paragraph about something that you believed the film was lacking.

    One thing that your film review made me think about was the idea that Leo, a differently abled teen, found his confidence with the help of Gabriel. I know that this film is fictional film, but it is interesting to wonder what might have happened if Gabriel never came into Leo’s life? Would Leo have ever been able to become more himself without the restrictions of his parents and Giovana? This idea demonstrates how many differently abled individual’s are under the control of others in the world today. In what ways can society fix these stigmas and help eliminate this barrier so that differently abled individuals may experience other ways of being?

    I thought it was very interesting that you touched on race and gender in addition to the main idea around differently abled individuals. I think I would enjoy this film a lot as it seems very inspiring, educating and touching.


  4. I really enjoy reading your film review as you have done an absolute terrific job! Right from the beginning you have stated clearly of what this movie’s theme is about. Then you carefully went through the movie plotline (without giving away too much) and make precise analysis, at the same time adding some personal touch. Often in the real world, bullies tend to pick on weaker individual, additionally, having physical disabilities as well as being a social minorities are often times a convenient target to be bullied. It is perhaps because of this, families and friends feel the need to provide extra protections. While it is understandable that those families and friends should not doubt one’s ability to control his life, but who can really blame them? Because after all, they do it out of love.
    Your review has inspired me to add this movie to my “To-Watch” list.


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