Dan Pendleton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Often, when a short film is made into a feature-length movie it fails to live up to the expectations and charm of the original. Thankfully, that is not the case with Daniel Ribeiro's The Way He Looks, which has taken it's original story and developed it into something even more beautiful. Ribeiro has stayed faithful to the story he originally told in I Don't Want to Go Back Alone, but given it time to progress naturally.
One of the strengths of the original short film was its relatable characters but, unfortunately, due to its short running time we weren't given the chance to learn much about them. Now, with a longer running time, we can explore these interesting characters further and learn more about what makes them tick.
We see a lot more of Leonardo and how his visual impairment affects his day-to-day life. This is through his over-protective parents who are scared to allow Leo to experience things unaided, or through the school bully who constantly targets Leo because of his disability. Due to this, Leo longs to find freedom by taking part in a foreign exchange program and visiting another country alone. Whether this is to escape the prejudice or to prove to his parents that he can look after himself is up for interpretation, but I think it's a bit of both. Leo just wants to be "normal", but this has a double meaning, referring to both his vision and his sexuality.
The relationship between Leo and new student Gabriel is given much more time to develop naturally. Every new scene between the two characters adds something new to their blossoming romance and the little flirting tactics between the two of them have been thought out carefully to progress the story at the right pace. It's one of the most realistic young relationships I've ever seen develop on screen and very similar to my own early romances when I was discovering my own sexuality. It makes me wonder how much of this story is based on Ribeiro's real-life experiences. Another nice touch in this expanded story is Leo's conversations with his grandmother about her relationship with her husband, which give him the confidence to believe in love and in his sexuality.
Giovana's role is also expanded, along with her friendship with Leo and the love triangle with Gabriel. Gi adds some good comic relief with some witty one-liners and reactions. Comedy doesn't always translate very well when watching a subtitled film, but Tess Amorim plays the role superbly and every facial expression or one-liner is timed and delivered expertly. Although the audience are cheering for Leo and Gabriel to get together, it is ultimately Leo and Gi's relationship that is at the backbone of this story. We all know that young love comes and goes, but Leo and Gi's friendship is so believable that you don't want their friendship to ever end.
If I had to find any negatives about the feature-length version it would be that some of my favourite moments of the original short were not included; such as the part where Gabriel walks Leo home for the first time and Leo holds onto Gabriel's arm. I really love Leo's reaction to that initial contact in the short but that is missing on the feature-length version. But that's only a minor nit-pick and there are plenty of other great moments like that to enjoy in the full-length movie.
I'd also like to have seen Leo's parents' reaction when he comes out the closet to them, but I do understand that this film is about Leo and Gabriel's relationship, it's a 'finding yourself' story and not a 'coming out' story. It probably would have felt shoe-horned in and out of place. Besides, there are plenty of subtle hints throughout the story that suggest that his parents, and his gran, already suspect that Leo is gay.
The (almost) final shot of Leonardo and Gabriel silencing Fabio, the school bully, by walking away, hand-in-hand, is absolutely beautiful and very powerful. Leo and Gabriel have found themselves and found each other and no longer need to hide their feelings. And the (actual) final shot of Leo riding the bike, something he earlier said he could never do, shows that he finally has his freedom that he has longed for throughout the film.
The Way He Looks is a beautiful film about self discovery and young love and has become my favourite film of 2014. Daniel Ribeiro is clearly a very talented writer and director. His career is definitely one to watch and I look forward to more stories from him.