Porto is a troubled portrait of ephemeral love

Unlike its contemporaries, Porto’s aesthetic beauty can’t hide a flawed script.

This piece is from our continuing coverage of Sydney Film Festival. Check out the rest of the content here.

Porto, the sophomore effort from Brazilian director Gabe Klinger, sets out to paint a portrait of the most seductive of escapist pursuits — love. Spontaneous, emancipatory love; the kind which materialises in one ephemeral instant bound to be steeped in nostalgia. Given his previous involvement with Richard Linklater (the famed director of conspicuously similar classics such as Before Sunrise), it’s fair to assume that Klinger aims to revise and reinvent the perennially hypnotising subject matter for a new generation. Unfortunately, what ensues is a pastiche of mismatched moods and tangential expositional trails, buoyed by an aesthetically inspired yet ultimately detached visual delivery.

One of the final posthumous releases bearing the name of the late Anton Yelchin, Porto follows a pair of expats, Jake (Yelchin) and Mati (Lucie Lucas) as they delve into an intense romantic connection over the course of a night in the Portuguese capital. An unmistakably European confluence of cinematic brushes are brought to the canvas, crafting a romantic backdrop replete with the stylistic tropes essential to any continental love affair — 8mm vignettes and extended cityscape shots, tied together by the impressionist musings of a solo piano. Yet for all its aesthetic charm, Porto squanders its immaculate presentation with a script that meanders like an untethered balloon, without ever quite ascending to the same soaring heights.

The scope of the film feels both prohibitively small and overwhelmingly large throughout its 76 minute run time; essential contextual details are neglected whilst irrelevant tangents are pursued exhaustively. Unlike its European contemporary La Vie d’Adèle, which details the love affair of two women in terms of their broader fears and aspirations, Porto’s romantic leads seem to operate in emotional isolation. Rarely is anything implied about their motivations outside of contrived and stilted dialogue, inhibiting the kind of empathetic connection essential to a deeply intimate narrative. Lacking this foundation, the extended nonlinear delivery of events feels ultimately novel, and compounds the emotional distance of the characters to create a narrative with all the intrigue of a disordered serial novel.

Despite failing to develop a momentum that remotely emulates the tumultuous odyssey of love at first sight, Porto is intermittently captivating, precariously suspending its flaws to deliver an honest (and silent) portrait of love — a couple entranced with each other from across a crowded diner, the silhouette of their embrace by the harbour, a mesmeric gaze shared in bed. And maybe its silence is golden — the ostensibly heartfelt interjections which punctuate these quiet vignettes, such as Jake’s “I wanna kiss”, or Mati’s “I never came so fast, like a guy” preclude any lasting impression of profundity and share more with The Room than the Linklater oeuvre that Porto attempts to emulate.

In many ways, Porto exemplifies the film that could have been. Burdened by a script which fails to harness the visual flair of the film, Klinger’s dramatic debut isn’t an abject failure. His honest intentions manage to seep through in the aesthetic charm of a film otherwise lacking in sincerity — and perhaps, by adopting the role of creative collaborator in the future, his visions of twenty first century romance may come to fruition. The generation of right-swipers will be ready when it does.