The film was selected as the Brazilian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards, but was not nominated.
The story centers 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.
Giovana 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 and Leo agrees. Later that night, Leo smells the clothing and wears it while lying on his bed. He begins to touch his genitals and it is implied he masturbates while smelling Gabriel's sweatshirt.
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 traveling. 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 in going 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. Later on, while the class goes swimming at a pool, Gabriel helps Leo apply sunscreen to his body, to which Fabio and another fellow classmate jokingly remark about the intimacy of their friendship.
Afterwards, Leo makes Gabriel wait with him at the pool while everybody gets cleaned up in the public showers, thinking that showering with other people is embarrassing. Still not eager to shower, Leo eventually leaves with Gabriel to the bathroom, which is now empty. As they shower, Gabriel lustfully gazes at Leo's naked body and consequently becomes aroused. Realizing this, he quickly retreats to cover his erection with a towel and sits feeling embarrassed.
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.Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo
Fabio Audi as Gabriel
Tess Amorim as Giovana
Eucir de Souza as Carlos
Isabela Guasco as Karina
Selma Egrei as Maria
Júlio Machado as Professor
Naruna Costa as Professora
Lúcia Romano as Laura
Victor Filgueiras as Guilherme
Pablo Carvalho as Fabio
The script was selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus - Script Station 2010 and was one of the three projects selected for the Rencontres Jeunes Réalisateurs of the Festival Biarritz Amérique Latine - Cinémas et Cultures (2009).
The film was shot entirely in São Paulo, Brazil.
The Way He Looks had its world premiere at the Panorama section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival on 10 February 2014. It was released in Brazil on 10 April 2014.
Peccadillo Pictures acquired the rights to The Way He Looks and released the film theatrically in the UK in November 2014.
In its first week of release in Brazil, the film debuted in 33 screens, and was the fifth most watched film of the week, with an audience of 30,209 people. Overall, the film grossed R$415,000 between Thursday and Sunday in competition with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was released in 1,107 screens. Along with the limited premiere sessions that happened in the previous week to the national release, the film was watched by a total of 31,209 people.
The Way He Looks received acclaim from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "fresh" score of 91% based on reviews from 34 critics; the site's consensus states: "Compassionate, emotionally detailed, and populated with resonant characters, The Way He Looks leaves a warmth that lingers." Metacritic gave the film a score of 74/100 based on reviews from 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Boyd van Hoeij of the The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, saying that "Ribeiro has impressively fleshed out the material into a full narrative, with not only added conflict and a convincing gallery of supporting characters but also an entirely new focus on the quest for independence of the blind lead." Jay Weissber of the Variety remarked "Daniel Ribeiro's gay coming-of-age debut has an undeniable appeal... this is a gay story, done with tenderness and capturing the hesitancy of expressing affection when rejection can have ugly consequences."
Roger Walker-Dack writing for QUEERTIQUES.com, wrote "There is nothing at all extraordinary in the plot-lines of this wee movie, but somehow it has the most endearing quality that makes it so immensely enjoyable. There is a remarkable innocence to this group of young people who all seem never to have even been kissed, and even the inclusion of Leo's taunting by the bullies in his class has no hint of any real hatred. There are some really nice touches of humor and tenderness, none more so than when Gabriel insists that Leo learns how to dance. What does make it all so compelling is the captivating performances of the three young lead actors, particularly Ghilherme Lobo who was so pitch perfect as the blind boy."
The film also received generally positive reviews from the Brazilian press. Raisa Rossi of Almanaque Virtual gave the film a positive review, saying "Hard not to be moved by such a light and true story, which nullifies any kind of prejudice. The compelling interpretations, especially Ghilherme Lobo as a blind kid, nice and smooth picture soundtrack and right round the merits of the film."
On the Brazilian site Cineclick, reviewer Roberto Guerra cited the film as "Flawless and sensitive under various aspects.... Few films, national or international, treat sexual manifestation of a teenager with much refining and subtlety is in the whole and not only in the construction of the dramatic character arc. Soundtrack, cinematography, editing and supporting cast work in subtle harmony, but always vibrant."
Upon its premiere at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, The Way He Looks won the FIPRESCI Prize for best feature film in the Panorama section and the Teddy Award for best LGBT-themed feature. It also won the 2nd place award in the Panorama section.