There are movies that make you happy and then there are movies that so thoroughly fill you with joy that you can’t help but burst into applause and feel giddy even weeks after seeing it. The Way He Looks, directed by Daniel Ribeiro and starring a marvelous young cast led by Ghilherme Lobo and Fabio Audi, definitely qualifies as the latter and you’d be hard pressed to find a movie more enjoyable to watch that this one.

Seriously folks, I can’t recall a film that made me more deliriously happy at the end of it’s running time than did The Way He Looks. And this probably wouldn’t have been the case if I’d only heard the beginning of the plot summary. The movie centers around Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind high school student who is longing for more world experiences. He spends much of the opening of the film surviving the taunts of kids in his class, going to and from school, and chatting with his good friend Giovanna (Tess Amorim) about first kisses and traveling abroad. The latter subject proves to be a sore subject with his parents and throughout the film, Leonardo struggles with reconciling his dreams and his disability. One day a new kid named Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives and him an Leonardo strike up a quick friendship, being forced to work on a project about Sparta. Their friendship begins to grow exponentially, alienating Giovanna in the process, but allows Leonardo to really start to spread his wings, and forces him to come to grips with his urges and just what him and Gabriel mean to each other.

Before I being laying praise at the writer directors feet, I believe any analysis of this film should start with the actors. If you’re looking for an ensemble that works top to bottom, than The Way He Looks is certainly that. Everyone has crafted a distinct character from the bullies at school to the parents of Leonardo (Eucir de Souza gets especially high marks for his warm portrayal as Leonardo’s father). The movie however, rests on the shoulders of its three young leads and neither of them drop the ball. As Giovanna, Tess Amorim manages to capture the spirit of adolescence when faced with someone possibly taking away a friend without being petulant or whiny. She truly wants what’s best for Leonardo and her warm energy and comic energy go along way to propelling the film. Fabio Audi as Gabriel has a rather tough task at hand, being both an object of freedom/lust for several characters as well as having his own desires and goals. But Audi easily finds the balance, never going overboard on his choices and really allowing us to see the struggle when he gets particularly close to someone in the film. While Amorim and Audi offer sterling supporting work, The Way He Looks would not have been as successful without the adorable and immensely talented Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo. I was blown away by his performance to the point of where I had to look up that he wasn’t actually blind or 16. Lobo has got it, that magical quality to find and inhabit a character that only certain actors can boast about. Leonardo is moody but never sullen, curious but cautious and as an actor, Lobo finds the balance between his warring natures and growing desires with ease.

Now it must have been simple for these actors to fall into their characters when they have a sure hand like writer director Daniel Ribeiro at the helm. Adapting his own popular short film to feature length, Ribeiro presents one of the more believable high school/coming of age/love stories you’re likely to see. That his characters sexualities are fluid is both a non-factor and the film’s biggest strength. In an era of queer tragedies are still one of the main ways we see this communitiy, The Way He Looks presents many of the settings for these films ie. questioning character, bullying, and parental struggle, yet never dallies.  It delights in the hard earned succeses of its characters and lets things play out relative to real life. He grounds the movie so close to the ensemble that once you finally get to the end where everything comes together, it’s just a magical release. Ribeiro is a major humanist director and The Way He Looks stands as one of the finest films in 2014.