Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Way He Looks, Plot for Peace

The Way He Looks
Plot for Peace

A sweetness of spirit distinguishes Brazil's official Oscar entry "The Way He Looks," directed by Daniel Ribeiro and starring Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo, a blind high school student in São Paulo chafing at his parents' protectiveness and interested in studying abroad.

Leo spends most afternoons with his kind and accommodating best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim), complaining about homework and dishing dirt on class flirt Karina (Isabela Guasco). They befriend the handsome new boy in class, Gabriel (Fabio Audi). Soon he's accompanying Leo and Gi, who always walks two blocks past her own house to make sure Leo gets home safely. Karina's all over Gabriel like white on rice, but both Leo and Gi are also attracted to him, in Leo's case his first infatuation ever. But whom does Gabriel like? 

"The Way He Looks" is a film of carefully observed moments, even if the writing occasionally lands on the nose. There's a lot of humor, including a bit of physical comedy as funny as any of the movie year, involving Giovana's reaction when, after carefully pouring herself a cup of soda at Karina's all-class bash, a boy offers her booze - vodka, whiskey, he doesn't know. All of the performances are highly winning. My only quibble involves a soft-core scene on the class "camping trip" (at what looks more like a resort), in which Leonardo and Gabriel take showers beside each other. For just a moment, Ribeiro abruptly shifts perspective to Gabriel as he looks Leo's naked body up and (mostly) down. It's out of keeping with the gentle spirit of the movie, which includes an ending that some have called saccharine but I didn't mind. Sometimes, life does turn out happily.

NOTE: "The Way He Looks" grew out of a seventeen-minute short film involving the same characters. You can see it (with English subtitles) here: 

The documentary "Plot for Peace," chronicling the hitherto unpublicized role of French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier in negotiating the release of Nelson Mandela, ending apartheid in South Africa, and stabilizing Cold War-strained relations in the region, is a case study in the perils of talking-heads filmmaking. Ollivier himself is featured at groaning length, and makes a less compelling figure than directors Carlos Agullo and Mandy Jacobson seem to think. But there are dozens more interviewees, along with generic photographs and stock video footage from the time, in what might have worked as a twenty-page New Yorker article. On the big screen, it's virtually impossible to follow, and if your attention flags for even a moment, you're toast. I was reminded of the "Golden Girls" episode in which Betty White volunteers to coach a grade-school boys' football team and diagrams a complicated pass play. Bea Arthur: "For God's sake, Rose! Eisenhower used less chalk planning D-Day!"

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