Porto is the understated second feature film helmed by Gabe Klinger. True to its name, the film is set in the Portuguese coastal city of Porto. It attempts to evoke saudade, “a Portuguese word that describes an emotional state of nostalgic longing for a person or place one has loved,” according to the film’s press notes. Porto centers on a one-night stand between Jake (Anton Yelchin) and Mati (Lucie Lucas), and their present lives apart. However, Klinger’s approach complicates this simple premise. He fastidiously structures (almost too much so) Porto in three parts; the first concentrates on Jake, the second on Mati, the third on both. Changes in aspect ratios (2:23:1 for the past, 1:33:1 for the present) trigger temporal shifts. Different film stocks (35mm, 16mm and Super 8mm) convey different shades of memory. By adhering to these rules, this dispositif, Klinger reveals the influence that James Benning and Richard Linklater have had on him — he is extending and mutating the aesthetic of these surprisingly similar filmmakers. (Just look at Klinger’s prior film, Double Play, a documentary that’s part of the long-running television series Cinéastes des notre temps, in which Klinger hangs out with the two as they play baseball and talk shop.)
After watching Porto, it doesn’t leave a big impression. Its dramaturgy is a bit blunt, although, in a similar vein as Boyhood (2014), as viewers are just seeing the highlights, those of a short romance. The film feels all the more sketch-like with its 76-minute runtime. I would’ve loved if Klinger allowed more time for viewers to settle into these recalled reveries. Instead, he presents the moment before, after and long after during interactions shared in less than 24 hours between Jake and Mati. They meet at a café (scored to John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Baby”) after exchanging glances at an archeological dig (Mati is an archeology student; Jake is an American expat working odd jobs) and at a train platform. Yelchin portrays Jake as frail and vulnerable. He’s perpetually hunched over, as if withering before the viewer’s eyes. “This is happening to us,” he says to Mati in his raspy voice, believing that their meeting was beyond their control and destined to happen. The words barely eek out of his mouth. Years later, hair graying and receding, his fallout with Mati has transformed him for the worse. Alone, he’s too aggressive with women and kicked out of bars.
Lucas has less going for her than Yelchin. As Mati, she’s simply vibrant with a wide smile, open and inviting to Jake’s charms. In the present time, marriage, divorce and children have sapped her vitality. For a film that supposedly offers a perspective from both sides of the relationship (the first part of the film is named “Jake,” the second is “Mati,” and the third is “Jake and Mati”), it comes off lopsided.
Porto luxuriates in mood. It flits back and forth between the present and the past, attempting to evoke a lingering romance that is now just a memory. It tries to muster an aura with thick visual descriptions of Porto. And it doesn’t go beyond idealized versions of a cherished one-night stand consisting of generic scenes of love and romance. It’s telling that Porto begins and ends with the same shot, too — one overused in cinema. Porto aims for atmosphere but merely achieves it with convention.
Tanner Tafelski (@TTafelski) is a film writer and journalist based in New York City. He frequently contributes to Hyperallergic, Kinoscope and The Village Voice. Find him on Instagram, Letterboxd and WordPress.