Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In PORTO, Gabe Klinger gives us a compelling tale of young, passionate, but one-sided love

The end credits begin with a dedication -- to Anton -- which is both justified and due, since the film's star is the late and hugely lamented Anton Yelchin, an actor whose fine performances have graced so many movies and TV shows since the turn into this new century that his loss is only beginning to be felt. (He also possessed one of the most distinctive voices in recent cinema.) The actor should have lived, worked and grown for decades longer. Yelchin turns in another memorable performance in Gabe Klinger's deeply experienced and probably very personal love story, PORTO, which takes place in that eponymous Portuguese city and details the very brief affair between a young man and an only slightly older woman -- the knockout Lucie Lucas -- over a very short time.

In order to get at the feelings of its two protagonists more deeply and also, I think, to make those feeling seem more spontaneous and honest, Mr. Klinger, shown at left, takes an oddly circuitous route, coming back and back again to the same moment but filling it in each time with more detail and sometimes a different POV. This forces us to think about the differences we see and hear and also to question their meaning(s). Eventually -- rather soon, in fact -- it becomes clear that this brief but very passionate affair has meant much more to the man, Jake, than to the woman, Marti, and that Jake, after all, is the movie's main character. (To call Jake a stand-in for Klinger seems almost obvious: The two possess such a similar look and physical build.)

As we bounce back and forth in time and place, we get know our two people, at least as much as they get to know each other in this relatively short span. Basically a two-hander -- with minor appearances by her older boyfriend-and-then-husband and their child -- the movie, as co-written (with Larry Gross) and directed by Klinger, manages to get inside the glamour/trauma of initial love and lust and make these very nearly as appealing, sexy, and frustrating as the actual event.

Yelchin, above, as Jake, looks surprisingly dark and drawn here, opening up and coming to life only in his physical/emotional connections to Ms Lucas, below, who plays Mati and offers him (and us) the kind of facial beauty and knockout physique that may put you in mind of the young Monica Bellucci -- yes, she is that stunning -- with a body that is on prominent, full-frontal display here. The sex is not skimped upon; instead it is a major part of the couple's equation.

Yet it is the emotional connection, felt so much more strongly by Jake than by Mati, that is the strongest and saddest element of the film, one that leaves Jake lost and adrift, for how long we cannot know. Yelchin captures all this, the disbelief that turn to enormous disappointment, with such strength and depth that we are with him all the way.

How the couple meets, the places they go, the things they talk about -- all of it seems simultaneously expected yet fresh. And since the movie lasts but 76 minutes, it nowhere near outstays its welcome. Just as did not Mr. Yelchin. What a loss this was. For those not so strongly acquainted with the actor's work -- aside from his best-known performances in the most recent set of Star Trek movies and the critically acclaimed but under-seen Like Crazy -- I would recommend Charlie Bartlett, Odd Thomas, Rudderless, and that great first-love story 5 to 7 for a crash course in Anton.

Meanwhile, Porto, also recommended and from Kino Lorber, opens this Friday, November 17, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and on Friday, November 24, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt. Elsewhere? Nothing scheduled yet, so far as I know, but surely this movie will eventually make its way to home video.

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