No matter its different moments of magnificence or weak point, Porto comprises one bittersweet, probably unnerving picture that few different movies can declare: the sight of Anton Yelchin rising outdated. The gifted actor died tragically and much too quickly final yr on the age of 27, and whereas Porto isn’t the final movie Yelchin shot or the final one he’ll seem in (Thoroughbreds shall be out in 2018), it’s maybe the most important position he left behind. A part of the film is structured round a one-night stand between Jake (Yelchin) and Mati (Lucie Lucas) that bears a passing resemblance to a sexier Earlier than Dawn. It’s one other American man and one other French lady collectively in a European metropolis with few different main characters—although right here they’re each expat residents of the Portuguese city of the title, slightly than vacationers.
Porto additionally leaps ahead in time to glimpse each characters on their very own, years after their transient shared time collectively, which is how the film comes to treat an older model of Yelchin: a bit of hunched, a bit of hobbled, hair graying, puttering round. Ageing up a youthful performer is a dangerous transfer, however Yelchin takes to it with heartbreaking ease. Even in his relative youth, seeds of that later loneliness (and early levels of desiccation) appear to have been planted.
Anton Yelchin, Lucie Lucas, Paulo Calatré, Françoise Lebrun
Select theaters November 17
Porto opens with Jake and Mati facing each other in bed, then divides itself into three sections: one for Jake, one for Mati, and one for the two of them together. Although their meeting isn’t shown right away, the movie establishes early on that they first noticed each other on the site of an archeological dig where Mati was working, then coincidentally spotted each other again that night and forged an unexpected, instinctual connection. The first two segments cut between bits of Jake and Mati’s whirlwind night together and their respective present-day situations, while the third digs further into their fateful encounter.
Through this scrambled chronology, conversations between the two of them are revisited with additional details revealed, and though the movie wafts through the mistiness of memory, it does so in unexpected ways. Director-cowriter Gabe Klinger shoots on film, using 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm stock, and neatly reverses the convention of depicting the past with the grainier, less polished format: The scenes set later are in lower-fi 16mm with a boxy aspect ratio, while the Jake/Mati scenes taking place in the past have a widescreen clarity. Klinger leads up to Jake and Mati’s first interaction at a restaurant with a graceful shot where the camera tracks back and forth across the room, and in general the final section features longer takes, including a three-minute unbroken shot following Jake carrying a heavy box from Mati’s car to her apartment.
Klinger has written for Sight & Sound and Cinema Scope, and Porto has some of the fussiness that might be associated, fairly or not, with a critic making his own movie; the 8mm-shot accents he applies to the story, for example, are less evocative than his 35mm compositions. A bigger problem turns out to be Jake, despite Yelchin’s strong work. The movie depends on a certain he-remembered/she-remembered mutual subjectivity, but that’s thrown off when Jake’s section is nearly twice as long as Mati’s despite being about half as interesting, which also mutes Lucas’ otherwise strong performance. On top of that grows the suspicion, based on his later-timeline wanderings, that Jake might be something of a creep. Porto seems to confirm this around the half-hour mark through a quick but indelible action that hangs over the rest of the movie, even when the filmmakers don’t seem to be thinking much about it.
Occasionally, the filmmaking is seductive enough to wave away that unpleasantness; passages of Porto are romantic, sexy, and heartbreaking, as two people are pulled together for reasons they both feel but can’t entirely explain (though regrettably, the characters do attempt to describe this feeling). There’s a bittersweet mystery in seeing the pieces of this relationship fall into place but not knowing exactly why it’s so fleeting. But leaving the immediacy of both the initial attraction and the quick dissolution largely unexplained is a pretty thin conceit on which to build an entire feature film, even one with a slim 76-minute running time and two capable performances. Its strongest evocation of poignant, imperfect memory has to do with its leading man, and the glimpse it provides of a fuller career that never was.