Director Gabe Klinger’s narrative feature debut Porto dissects a passionate one-night stand between a thirty-something French student, Mati (Lucie Lucas), and a 26-year-old American ex-pat, Jake (Anton Yelchin), who lock eyes in a cafe before Mati whisks the couple away to a nearly bare apartment for a sensual, relentless rendezvous. Klinger cuts back and forth in time from the night in question to many years in the future, imagining what would have been if the impromptu passion these two felt on that night had been sustained — but to what ends, I’m not sure. This is a film steeped in the nouvelle vague tradition, with poppy bits of poetic-seeming dialogue and pretty pictures of beautiful, pining people, shot on multiple soon-to-be-extinct film formats (8 mm, 16 mm and 35 mm). All of this is attractive, yet I felt nothing for these people, their pain or their possible lost future.
At a slim 77 minutes, Porto should seem as fleeting as the memories it’s trying to capture, but it dragged through so many dull scenes that I continually caught myself checking the time. People walk in this film. They walk from the seaside down a street, where they will walk possibly to a bar or a restaurant or maybe through a field of tall grass. On grainy film stock, their walking maybe is meant to be imbued with profundity, especially as they stroll through a village of Romanesque and gothic architecture. But no. They’re just walking.
For the scenes depicting the tenuous couple’s sexual activities, Klinger wraps the actors’ skin in warm yellow light, with the rest of the apartment fading into blackness, so that sometimes it seems their illuminated bodies are floating in time and space. The director possesses a keen eye for impressive images. But these sex scenes also deliver some of the most cringeworthy dialogue of the film.
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Before Jake kisses Mati in the apartment, he coos, “I want to go until I finish. Until I’m stopped. And I am never stopped.” I had to replay this scene to make sure I heard what I’d heard, and then I was left to wonder whether this wasn’t discarded dialogue from True Detective’s second season. Later, Jake lays atop Mati, pumping into her for a full minute, while Mati yowls in ecstasy, and then they both collapse fulfilled. Mati says, “I came so fast. Like a guy.” The two have sex multiple times that night, with Jake proclaiming he’s ready yet again, and Klinger makes sure to frame Lucas’ breasts so we can always see them front and center as she’s ravished. This whole thing is so brazenly a male fantasy that the film could have begun with, “Dear Penthouse,” and I wouldn’t have questioned it. All the while, Mati apologizes again and again for being “a little crazy,” and these admissions of mental illness seem to make Jake desire her more and more, which is a psychological quirk for Jake that Klinger doesn’t address. Maybe that story would interfere with the pretty pictures.