As a critique of easily wounded, deceptively soft masculinity, Porto might have succeeded, but eventually things fall apart.
Gabe Klinger’s Porto will surely delight film nerds for not only using actual celluloid but several gauges. Shot on 35mm, 16mm and Super 8, the film seeks to evoke the mindset of two young people, Jake (Anton Yelchin) and Mati (Lucie Lucas), in the moment and aftermath of a one night stand, using the different film stocks to reflect how sharply the people resonate in each other’s memories. It’s a neat gimmick, but in its nerdy aesthetic obsessiveness it displays an unfortunate obliviousness to what it is saying about its characters.
Opening with a shot of Jake and Mati staring at each other in bed, the film quickly shifts to Jake’s perspective in the wake of their moment of post-coital bliss, in which he has clearly fallen in love and Mati has moved on. With Super 8 footage smearing colors into thick paint strokes, the image reflects Jake’s disturbed mental state as his fixation on an unrequited obsession eats away at him and reduces him to slovenly alcoholism. As we start to see more of Jake around the time of his hook-up, however, it becomes clear that his problems run far deeper than benign rejection. In scenes of Jake and Mati interacting, we learn that he is 26 and she 32, yet Jake looks a decade older than Mati. Jake, haggard and withdrawn, has prematurely aged even before he goes off the deep end, and the scenes of him well after any semblance of hope for a relationship has evaporated find him looking ghastly and ill.
Yelchin, appearing in one of his final performances, digs deep into the personality of a seemingly nice guy whose inability to take a gentle letdown turns him into something ominous. The non-chronological editing gives us glimpses of Jake as someone endearing in his shyness before cutting shortly thereafter to him showing up to Mati’s apartment after their one-night stand offering to help her build furniture, and his conception of this gesture as a gentlemanly act is not even slightly abated by the look of near panic in the woman’s face when he arrives at her door. Yelchin, never outwardly threatening, always mistaking his desperation and intrusiveness as shows of devotion, expertly portrays the inadvertent but nonetheless potent menace of unchecked infatuation, a man whose unawareness of his sinister undertones does not mean they do not exist.
As a critique of easily wounded, deceptively soft masculinity, Porto might have succeeded, but things fall apart when the film shifts focus to Mati, less to delve deeper into her perspective of Jake’s behavior than to provide backstory to the character that makes unsettling false equivalences with Jake’s issues. Whereas Jake’s thoughts revolve entirely around Mati, Mati’s segment of the film consists of reveries on her life to the point of meeting Jake. Super 8 showed Jake’s future breakdown, but for Mati it illustrates young love and a rushed marriage, complete with a baby, and the quality of the stock steadily upgrades as the child ages, showing Mati’s own priority in life. But when she meets and is briefly attracted to Jake, that more interesting aspect of her character is sidelined in favor of her stories of promiscuousness, which she relates with a patina of regret even as she plans to hook up with the man. The way Mati refers to her sexual past, saying that she “went a bit crazy” and “didn’t exactly escape” that lifestyle, does not place her on an even keel with Jake and his fixations but does suggest that that her casual sex is at least somewhat of a flaw simply to make her contrast more sharply with the male protagonist.
This twist promptly scuttles Porto as a potentially incisive view of male entitlement and the smokescreen of niceness performed out of desire. In a way, the film comes to resemble (500) Days of Summer, which similarly presented an image of male projection that deconstructed the romantic façade but ultimately undermined its premise by forcing normal attributes held by the lead woman to be seen as flaws or inconsistencies. Rather than critique misogyny, the film eventually reveals its own, exposing all the celluloid trickery as a hollow creative exercise whose supposedly original tricks cannot paper over stale ideas.