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    The Way He Looks Proves That Real Love for All of Us Is Blind

    garyBrazil’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, The Way He Looks, opens November 7. It is out writer/director Daniel Ribeiro’s feature length version of his excellent 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone. This sweet and sunny romance features Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind teenager, whose BFF, Giovana (Tess Amorim), assists him in school and walks him home. When Gabriel (Fabio Audi) joins their class, he befriends Leo and Gi, as she’s called. When a class assignment forces Gabriel and Leo to work together, the guys quickly form an intimate bond, which causes Gi to become jealous.

    What makes The Way He Looks so magical is that Ribeiro shows the two guys falling in love. They never discuss their emotions, but they are all tactile.

    Ribeiro recently met with me for the San Francisco Bay Times to talk about gay teens, shower scenes, and The Way He Looks.

    Gary M. Kramer: Why did you feel you needed to expand your short into a feature?

    Daniel Ribeiro: When I thought about this blind character discovering that he was gay, I knew it had to be my first feature. Blindness provides a way to talk about sexuality because Leo had never seen a boy or a girl. His feelings were not based on anything he had seen; it was just how he felt—his other senses. I thought Leo was a character we’d never seen before, and this coming of age film would be a good first feature for me to represent who I am. I wanted to keep the same actors because they had a huge chemistry in the short.

    filmGMK: There are many scenes involving tactile contact—the boys on the bike, or Gabriel teaching Leo to dance…

    DR: Sight is something that is very attached to sexuality. The big conflict for Leo is: Does Gabriel like me or not? He can’t use his sight to get the clues.

    GMK: In Latin culture, it is very common for intimacy to develop between friends. Can you discuss the attitudes queer teens face in Brazil?

    DR: In Brazil, men don’t kiss on the cheek. Brazil is almost conservative in that way. I wanted to establish that. If two boys are too intimate, people think they are gay. If you kiss a boy, you’re gay. You can hug, that’s OK. We express our emotions easily, but there are rules about being gay, a limit to what you can do and what is considered too much.

    GMK: Leo is very careful about expressing his emotions. Can you discuss how you constructed his character, showing how he is different at home and school, and with his family and friends?

    DR: I think we are all like that—adapting—especially someone [like Leo] who is bullied. In places where he has more power (e.g. at home), he can be strong. He is able to have a dialogue with his parents. I didn’t want him to be protected by anyone other than Gi and his mother.

    film2GMK: Leo’s mother sees him as being very responsible. Do you think gay teens are more mature?

    DR: I think a lot of young gay people mature really young because they have to deal with something huge in their lives and they have to do it by themselves. Nowadays, it is easier for gay teens to be more open but, when I was a teenager, I went through a period where I couldn’t share everything I was feeling. I was always thinking, and I think a lot of gay people go through that, and mature really fast and really young. I don’t have Leo question his sexuality, which I went through. I think gay kids shouldn’t have to go through this period of questioning who they are. You need some time to understand what you are feeling, but when you realize you’re gay, it should be OK.

    GMK: What can you say about the shower scene? 

    DR: I think there has to be a shower scene in a gay film. In the short, we have the same concept where Leo changes in front of Gabe, and Gabe looks at him and realizes that he can look at Leo and Leo doesn’t realize he’s staring. Because they were older, I could do it with nudity, and it would be important for the characters. It’s a big deal for gay teens when they have to shower with other people. You can get an erection because your body can’t hide your sexuality.

    GMK: Gi and Leo talk about their level of laziness. What is your level of laziness?

    DR: It depends. Right now, it’s big. I’m trying to start a new film. It makes me lazy because it’s so hard. I have to think: What is the story I want to tell next? But when the films starts, it flows and it’s exciting and it goes to zero, because I just want to make the film.

    © 2014 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer