by Benjamín Harguindey
Muted “end-of-relationship” movies are a dime a dozen in film festivals, which is where I found Porto (2016) – playing at the 19th BAFICI, the Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente.
The story concerns Jake and Mati, played by Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas, and American and a Frenchwoman living in self-exile in the city of Porto (Portugal). As the movie opens they glow at each other over their pillows. Don’t they look in love. We flash back to their nitghtime meet-cute at a cafeteria, and then flash forward to a haggard-looking Jake, who spends his days ambling around the city (depicted in a faded, vintage look by DP Wyatt Garfield) and reminiscing of the past.
Perhaps it is rash to class Porto as an “end-of-relationship” flick. Jake and Mati don’t appear to have had much of one in the first place. As the movie reconstructs what, exactly, has happened to these two unhappy looking young people, we learn that what they shared was but a moment (the nature of which provides the movie’s climax), and that they’re haunted by the should’ves, could’ves and would’ves of that moment.
There are no big fights. No major misunderstandings. Nothing along the lines of soapy conflict, even when the movie introduces a smug gentleman caller in João (Paulo Calatré), who’s more bemused by Jake than he is intimidated. The other important character, even though she’s in a single scene, is Mati’s mother (Françoise Lebrun), an Oracle to her daughter.
As you can probably surmise there isn’t much plot to Porto. It’s less about the characters themselves (we learn very little about them beyond their roles as lonely outsiders) and more about the rare passion that they once shared between them, about how this kind of intimacy suddenly sparks, flares up and eventually ebbs down. It’s about the “clean, well-lighted place”, if you know your Hemingway, and how it’s briefly there for you when you need someplace safe and cozy.
Which isn’t to say Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas don’t carry the movie. They have good presence and chemistry without falling into the typical romantic lead pits – the rugged charmer and the manic pixie dream girl. Yelchin, seen here in one of his final performances before his untimely demise, is sulky and wounded and bordering on some form of autism, whereas Lucas – sultry and adorable as the actress is – edges on being a little mean, a little off-kilter.
There’s an air of Paterson (2016) here, what with the endearing low-key characters and slice-of-life vibe, and more specifically Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), about a couple of vampiric loners with really nothing in the world but each other (and actually featured Yelchin in a supporting role). Those are Jim Jarmusch’s last two movies to date, and sure enough he serves as executive producer to this one.
Not to discredit writer-director Gabe Klinger, but he seems to be aping senpai. Klinger’s other previous movie is the 2013 documentary Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, the latter of which orchestrated the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” romantic respite movies. You see how it goes.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).