Porto: The memory of love
by David González
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016: Gabe Klinger dissects and reconstructs a romance between two foreigners in the eponymous Portuguese city, drawing on a collection of striking cinematic devices
How do you recreate the experience of a past romance, when it exists only as a trace in the mind? Does love itself have a memory? The story of two strangers — one French, one American — who were the protagonists of a love affair at some unspecified moment in the past, gives Brazilian director Gabe Klinger his starting point for Porto [+see also:
interview: Gabe Klinger
film profile], premiered in the New Directors section of the 64th San Sebastián International Film Festival. It’s the now US-based director’s first narrative film since his award-winning documentary about the nature of cinema, Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, in 2013. The Old-World city of Porto, Portugal, was the filming location chosen by Klinger, who is a writer and film-studies professor as well as a director —and perhaps as indebted to his past as the couple whose brief but intense romance provides the heart of the film.
Jake (portrayed by the recently and tragically deceased US actor Anton Yelchin) and Mati (French actress Lucie Lucas) first lock eyes across an archaeological dig; later, they meet again in a tavern, and later still they arrange a rendezvous in a quiet bar. The streets of Porto, that charming and original jewel in Portugal’s cultural crown, form the backdrop to their encounters as hand-in-hand the two look to the future; the future from which we watch their stories unfold. Jake has grown older, but continues to wander around the city like a disorientated drifter, whereas Mati has made a new life for herself, surrounded by others, like her initial partner Paulo Calatré and her mother, played by the legendary Françoise Lebrun. We watch as their memories flit between one place and another, between past and present, as we are invited to imagine, relive or even try to understand what it was that so mesmerised them at the time of their meeting.
Porto is a film in which form rapidly morphs into substance. While the advancement of the plot is far from being the most important aspect of the film, its rhythm is marked by Klinger’s arresting narrative choices, which pull apart and reassemble the story in surprising ways. Although ostensibly divided into three parts (Jake, Mati and Mati and Jake), the screenplay continuously jumps back and forth through time, signposted by the use of different cinematographic techniques: square film format with a pronounced grain for the present, and a clear, more conventional panoramic format for the past. This juxtaposition seems to evoke the way in which we remember things that happened in the distant past — as if we were watching a film projected before the mind’s eye. In portraying his characters’ individual stories, Klingeralso slips in images filmed on Super 8 by the actors themselves, some nods to silent film and a number of time-lapse shots, in order to reflect once more on the passage of time. Time holds powerful sway over our access to the couple’s memories of how they met, with the words spoken varying depending on who is doing the remembering.
Love, Klinger appears to be telling us, is the only thing that can hold together the different phases of our lives, although perhaps not in a way that to us seems rational, perfect or precise. Porto speaks of love as of a mystical force, capable of propping up something as ethereal and elusive as the ambiguous portrait of a memory. What’s more, it delivers its message wrapped in a serene and evocative jazz score, as powerful as it is melancholy.
We’ve refrained until now from mentioning that Jim Jarmusch was the executive producer of this film, and that Chantal Akerman also had a hand in its creation (although her contribution cannot be seen directly in the final cut), to prevent this delightful knowledge from influencing your impression of a film that excels on its own merits. Klinger’sgreat knowledge (and love) for the seventh art probably has something to do with that.
(Translated from Spanish)