Porto opens with the unmistakable sound of Anton Yelchin’s gravelly voice in monologue. In light of the actor’s recent death this has an amplified power and is instantly attention-grabbing and emotive. What follows doesn’t always live up to this high bar. The opening credits follow the mould of Woody Allen in Europe, albeit without his signature typeface, before director Gabe Klinger marshals the mise-en-scène to create a distinctively ‘70s feel. With its initial boxy aspect ratio and flickering film stock, Porto feels like the product of a bygone era.
Klinger is an expert conjuror and controller of atmosphere and style. The sex scenes are sensual and evocative without ever being gratuitously graphic. The roving camera is the curious eye of an unknown narrator, giving Jake’s (Yelchin) routine walks through Porto’s streets dynamic movement. There’s a Linklater-esque philosophical pondering to Jake and Mati’s (Lucie Lucas) walk and talks, and also to the screenplay’s representation of time. Having written and directed the documentary Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, Klinger is clearly a devotee of Linklater’s work. Yet while Porto does recall the older director’s Before trilogy, it has enough of its own style to keep it from feeling derivative.
All of the above could have made Porto an excellent short, but unfortunately Klinger and co-writer Larry Gross pushed it to feature length. Through the fractured chronology and repetition it almost seems like they’re trying to demonstrate the narrative’s flimsiness; when a 75 minute film repeats footage and scenes there’s clearly a problem.
The feature format is misjudged and the screenplay needed some fleshing out, but Porto is elegant, eloquent, and clearly the work of a technically skilled director. It’s an extraordinary privilege to see one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances on film.
CAST: Anton Yelchin, Lucie Lucas, Françoise Lebrun, Paulo Calatré
DIRECTOR: Gabe Klinger
WRITERS: Larry Gross, Gabe Klinger
SYNOPSIS: Jake and Mati are two outsiders in Porto who once experienced a brief connection. A mystery remains about the moments they shared, and in searching through memories, they relive the depths of a night uninhibited by the consequences of time.