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The Way He Looks

June 2, 2016

TWHL 2In Inclusive Church we have been looking at ways to include people with disabilities. When it comes to visually impaired people, it isn’t so much what we can do for them as how we can learn from them, taking cues from the,. So it isn’t so much about producing liturgies in Braille as about getting into their world and treating them just like anyone else.

I learned so much from my colleague, the late John Hull.

This film in Portuguese: Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho – literally, “Today I Want to Go Back Alone”) is a 2014 Brazilian coming-of-age romantic drama film based on the 2010 short film I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone (Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho).

The story centres on Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind high school student struggling with independence. At the beginning of the film, he and his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), are discussing how they have yet to kiss anyone. Leo is especially distressed because he wants his first kiss to be special, but doesn’t believe anyone wants to kiss him. When the day ends, Giovana walks Leo home, his arm linked with hers, and she unlocks his door for him, something she regularly does for him despite her house being a block in the opposite direction. Leo arrives home and his mother expresses distress at Leo’s sunburned skin and worry at the thought of leaving Leo home alone while she and his father are out. Leo insists he will be fine, and his mother agrees under certain terms. Leo and Giovana return to school after holiday and classmate Fabio (Pablo Carvalho) makes fun of Leo’s loud typewriter. When their professor instructs Fabio to move to the empty seat behind Leo, Fabio outright declines, arguing he will constantly have to assist Leo if he sits there. A new student named Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives and takes the empty seat behind Leo.

TWHL 3Giovana expresses romantic interest in Gabriel rather quickly, but is appalled when Karina (Isabela Guasco), who has a promiscuous reputation, begins to pursue him. Leo and Giovana become friendlier with Gabriel and he joins the pair on their walk home. One day, Leo walks home from school alone with a walking stick, and Fabio and his friends taunt Leo, making movements around his head which Leo can’t see. Leo eventually trips over them and falls, but quickly leaves, angry. He arrives home much later than usual to his frazzled, worried parents. He expresses his annoyance at their overprotective nature and how he doesn’t want to be treated differently because of his disability. Later on, Leo expresses his interest in studying abroad to Giovana as a way to leave his overbearing home life. Leo and Giovana go to an exchange agency to get more information, but the agent must go through their parents first, whom Leo hasn’t told his plans to. Leo and Gabriel hang out at Giovana’s house, and when it’s time to leave, Gabriel insists he take Leo back himself to make things easier for Giovana. She is reluctant and visibly upset, but agrees. A school project requires same-sex pairs, so Leo pairs up with Gabriel instead of Giovana. The two go to lunch together, and Gabriel feels embarrassed for asking questions about Internet videos and going to the movies. Leo agrees anyway and the pair see a movie, with Gabriel whispering the action to Leo the entire time. While working on the project a few days later, Leo attempts to teach Gabriel Braille, which Gabriel thinks is impossible to learn due to its difficulty. However, Leo remarks that “impossible is [him] riding a bike”.

The boys sneak out one night to watch a lunar eclipse, which Gabriel tries to explain to Leo using the placement of rocks. On the way home, Gabriel realizes he left his sweatshirt at Leo’s house and asks him to bring it the next day. Leo agrees, but not before smelling the clothing and wearing it to sleep. The exchange agency calls Leo about an American agency that specializes in blind students, but they still need parents’ approval. Leo lies, saying his parents are travelling. The project results in Gabriel replacing Giovana as Leo’s guide home, and she gets angry when they walk home without her one day. They wait for her the following day, but she refuses to acknowledge them. Leo finally confides his interest abroad to his parents and they outright disapprove. His father later addresses it privately with Leo, understanding Leo’s interest, but still not comfortable with it. Leo accepts his explanation. The three friends go to a house party hosted by Karina. Giovana avoids Leo, still angry at him, and gets drunk with Gabriel, confessing that she feels he’s replaced her in Leo’s life and Leo wouldn’t miss her if he went abroad, which Gabriel knew nothing about. Giovana kisses him, but Gabriel does not reciprocate. While this is happening, Leo reluctantly joins a game of Spin the Bottle. When it lands on Leo, Fabio quickly grabs Karina’s dog for Leo to kiss instead of a person. Giovana drags Leo out before anything happens and Leo is annoyed at her, furthering Giovana’s anger at him before she leaves. Gabriel comes out after this, insisting that he take Leo home, but Leo explodes with anger that everyone keeps controlling him and not even let him kiss anyone. Gabriel then kisses him and leaves quickly, riding home on his bike in a rush.

The school goes on a camping trip and Leo sits alone on the bus, with Gabriel next to Karina. Gabriel approaches Leo at the campsite and claims that he was so drunk that he doesn’t remember anything from Karina’s party, including the kiss, which Leo doesn’t discuss. That night, Giovana and Leo make up and get drunk together, with Leo eventually admitting that he is in love with Gabriel. Giovana is skeptical at first, but gives her support when they arrive home from the trip, urging Gabriel to go see Leo. Gabriel visits Leo at his house and when Leo asks if he hooked up with Karina, Gabriel admits she attempted to. However, he admits that he turned her down because he likes someone else. Gabriel also elusively confesses that it is Leo he is interested in and does, in fact, remember their kiss after Karina’s party. However, he has doubts about Leo reciprocating these feelings. Leo responds by kissing Gabriel.

Some time later, the two present their project and walk home with Giovana, Leo on Gabriel’s arm. Fabio and friends poke fun at the homosexual nature of Leo and Gabriel’s relationship, not knowing the truth. Leo changes positions so he is holding hands with Gabriel, much to the shock and chagrin of Fabio’s friends. The final scene of the film is Leo riding a bike with Gabriel perched on the back wheel, assisting him.

In the end, this beautiful film isn’t a movie about a blind kid’s life. It’s just about a kid’s life

Rather than frame the narrative as one of painful and/or liberating epiphanies, Ribeiro structures the movie as a relaxed line of grace notes, many of them charming (Gabriel teaching Leo dance steps to the songs of Belle and Sebastian, Leo asking his game, kindly father for tips in improving his face-shaving) and some painful (Leo’s emerging new self creates not entirely unpredictable troubles for him among bigoted classmates).

I was moved by the scene where his father teaches him how to shave because my father died long before I needed that lesson- and the results, in my case, were disastrous.

TWHLLaura: Where were you? Out there alone in the dark?

Leonardo: It’s always dark for me.


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


Gabriel: Why are you getting all up in MY face?

Leonardo: Because everyone wants to control me and won’t let me kiss anyone! [in response, Gabriel plants a kiss on him]


Gabriel: We need to share how we feel. There’s no point in keeping it all bottled up.


[repeated line] Leonardo: What’s your level of laziness right now?


Karina: We’re going to see the sunset.

Leonardo: Speak for yourself. I’m not gonna see anything.


[repeated line] Giovana: Give me the keys, Léo.


Giovana: [watching Karina meet Gabriel outside the boys’ bathroom] She’s such a slut, isn’t she? There. She’s made her move. She is all friendly, talking to him, playing with her hair. She touched his shoulder, Leo. And his hand! She doesn’t even know if he’s washed it.


Leonardo: [hearing a knock at the door] It’s Gabriel. We’re doing an assignment and he came to pick me up here.


Carlos: I was thinking about the exchange program you talked about.

Leonardo: Really?

Carlos: Really, but you can’t talk while you’re shaving.

Leonardo: Sorry.

Carlos: I’m trying to understand your desire to go so far away. I think it’s natural, especially at your age, to want to see other places, meet new people, make other friends. I think it’s normal, but I also think it’s very natural to fight with your parents. I was like that, too, but it’s too extreme to leave the country to run away from the fights. You know… I’m thinking about talking to your mother about the program, but first I need to understand if you want to go for the right reasons. Do you agree, Leo? Do you agree?

Leonardo: Can I talk now?

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From → Film, Sexuality

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