Heavily influenced by French New Wave auteurs François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, it’s too easy to call “Porto” a stylish swag song for the late Anton Yelchin. A wonderful young actor who used his blockbuster clout to improve his talent through indies, this film is more proof that another decade could’ve solidified Yelchin as one of the greats.
While it’s certainly a solid showcase for him, “Porto” is much more than a career footnote. So many indies aim to capture retro Euro chic and end up being all sizzle without any steak. However, “Porto” stands out by using its vintage trappings to address the spectacular wonders, complexities and heartbreaking realities that come with loving another human being.
Yelchin stars as Jake, whose slouchy, pale and balding appearance belies his mid-20s. Through his face and subtle emotional nuances, Jake says everything without saying much of anything. This comes into play upon meeting Mati (Lucie Lucas), a French woman also stationed in Porto with her own internal conflicts. Once they meet and come alive with one another, their romance becomes the centerpiece of a multilingual mystery dealing with their eventual separation.
In his feature film debut, director Gabe Klinger comes out swinging and asks you to trust his experimentation in a way that’s not too dissimilar from “Moonlight.” He presents this romance nonlinearly, where changes in aspect ratio and differing layers of grain, pops and scratches tribute the New Wave and act as tools for us to make sense of the timeline.
Story wise, the conceit forces the eye to see the deeper themes surrounding Jake and Mati. It helps that Klinger and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield – who worked cameras on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – understand the importance of minimal dialogue and gorgeous vistas.
Bearing in mind that the film was originally scheduled to be shot in Athens before its 2014 liquidity crisis, Garfield takes full delight in transforming Porto into an alluring city where the dirt and cracks are as equally beautiful as the architecture itself.
Most importantly, such a devotion to setting and storytelling makes these factors the proper springboard for the characters’ bleak pasts and impractical ambitions – even if some of those ambitions only lasted one night. Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas do fantastic jobs of portraying Jake and Mati’s passion and juvenility, with Yelchin’s skinny demeanor and haunting eyes being the perfect gateways into feeling Jake’s happiness, compassion and anguish.
Complete with confident direction, rich themes and in Klinger’s words, Yelchin’s “expressionistic” performance, you can’t miss “Porto” if you dig the actor, the genre or indies in general. A really good piece of melancholic romance that’s just as meticulous as the way we describe our biggest crushes, this is a strong first film for Klinger and a strong posthumous display of talent gone too soon.
Anton would’ve been proud.
Featured Image: Lucie Lucas and Anton Yelchin are the stars of “Porto.” Double Play Films.