Studio: Kino Lorber
Directed by Gabe Klinger

Nov 17, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Any film fan reading the log line for Porto, the narrative feature debut of director Gabe Klinger, will see an obvious point of comparison. The tale of a love affair between a drifting American ex-pat and a French grad student in the Portuguese city of the title, the film is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic romantic two-hander, Before Sunrise. At least, on the surface. Porto forgoes Linklater’s heart-on-the-sleeve humanism for something similar to the style of its executive producer, Jim Jarmusch. A downbeat, impressionistic deconstruction of love at first sight, Porto is rendered all the more tragic by featuring one of the final performances of Anton Yelchin, who died shortly after the film was completed.

Shot on a combination of Super 8, 16mm and 35mm, Porto varies between looking like old vacation slides, home movies, postcard photos and grainy early digital video. The squared off frames lend a timeless quality to shots of the city itself as well as stark intimacy when zoomed in on the faces of our lovelorn leads. The DIY simplicity of the film’s presentation is well suited to its subject matter. Plotless, even by the standards of an artsy romance, Porto tells an oblique, non-linear story of romance, focusing on the speed with which it sparks and fades. Klinger employs a number of aesthetic tricks first birthed in that original period of youthful European romance, the French New Wave; jump cuts, slow motion and sex scenes delivered via smeared montage abound. But where many New Wave films used these techniques to convey exuberance and irreverence, Porto is a melancholy affair, its fleeting, formless seventy-five minute runtime attempting to capture the speed with which a romantic affair can bloom and die.

Porto’s minimalist plot and stylistic experimentation will be considered pretentious by some, and rightly so to some degree. The film seems more interested in imparting an emotional experience rather than an intellectual one. In the end, it lives or dies by one’s connection to the two leads, who are lightly sketched and not always sympathetic. As Mati, Lucie Lucas is luminous and compelling, but the script and the performance smartly keep her from becoming anything resembling a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Lucas balances Mati’s charm and warmth with an undercurrent of pragmatism and sadness, making her trajectory feel tragic without resorting to anything resembling melodrama or contrivance. Unsurprisingly, the film feels like a final unwitting showcase for actor Anton Yelchin, who was killed in a freak accident several months after filming was completed. Despite only being twenty-seven at the time of his death, Yelchin gives Jake a weariness that makes him seem older than his years. Balding and drawn to the point of seeming skeletal, Yelchin gives Jake an air of hesitant desperation, jittery and measured in equal parts. Jake is a man whose desperation for connection pushes people away, but Yelchin keeps Mati - and the audience - drawn in with his child-like rasp and pained eyes. Porto would be a challenging watch without the real-life tragedy looming over it; Yelchin’s death has the strange and morbid effect of making difficult material more relatable and immediate.

Author rating: 7/10

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