Brazil is the home to more Roman Catholics than any nation on Earth, and though Rome has recently sent signals that it might be softening its stance on homosexuality, the South American country is still relatively conservative when it comes to matters of gay rights. So it’s been a pleasant surprise that The Way He Looks, a gay coming-of-age film from first-time filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro, became a modest indie hit at the box office and was named Brazil’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
“It’s an independent film about an issue people are talking about back in Brazil,” Ribeiro says. “We have problems with the violence against gay people, too, so it’s a film that is talking about an important issue, and I guess people were excited about this film portraying a gay character in a very natural way.”
The film tells the story of a teenage love triangle: Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) is a blind student who survives high-school bullies and his over-protective parents with the help of Giovana (Tess Amorim), whose role as Leo’s protector masks deeper feelings. But their relationship is thrown off kilter when a handsome new student Gabriel (Fabio Audi) comes to their school. “This blind character works well [to tell the story] because it takes homosexuality, which is usually associated with sex, and I wanted to associate it with love,” Ribeiro says. “[Leo is] a teenager who’d never seen a guy or a girl before in his life, so I think it makes audiences think about their own sexuality and their own experiences in being a teenager and falling in love for the first time.”
In this exclusive scene from the film, which opens in the U.S. on Nov. 7, a spurned Giovana rescues Leo from being humiliated by a cruel prank.
Here’s the trailer, which makes great use of Belle & Sebastian’s “There’s Too Much Love.” “I have a personal connection to that song,” Ribeiro says. “When I knew there was going to be a theme song for the couple in the film, I thought it would be the perfect mood for their scenes. It’s a bit melancholic, but there’s some happiness in it.”