You never know if what you’ve lost is better than what you’ve gained.
An American ex-pat reminisces about lost love, his walk through the Portuguese town of Porto leading to the café window of an old late-night conversation conducted with absolute honesty, vulnerability, and empathy. His hair is grayed, the time between widescreen past and boxed present (the latter shot on Super 8 rather than the former) ten to twenty years. He’s distraught, complacent, and lecherously pathetic when the emotions of memory take hold of a body long since changed. We listen to his declaration of affection. We experience his intensity inside a moment when he wasn’t exactly welcome. And we wonder if his feelings were warped by an obsessive mind, the woman’s escape a necessary, harrowing affair. It appears Jake Kleeman (Anton Yelchin) wasn’t scorned. He was fended off.
A thirty-two year old student reminisces about lost love, her walk through Porto one she’s taken her entire life. Her current turmoil as a divorcee with daughter at home and ex-husband overstepping boundaries renders this sojourn contemplative and full of “what ifs”—regret leading to the café window of a late-night conversation had years earlier with a man she let in with an ease no one before or after ever equaled. She says she’s happy, but we see a yearning for more behind sad, tired eyes. We compare her present severity (again in Super 8) to the bubbly, uninhibited joy of the past (in widescreen) expressed through a new romance’s excitement. It appears Mati Vargnier (Lucie Lucas) may have led her suitor on, destroying him in the end.
Which is true? The point reveals both are and neither. At least that’s my interpretation of Gabe Klinger and cowriter Larry Gross‘ Porto. It’s a story told in simplistic triptych (Jake first, Mati second, and Jake and Mati third) with the first two segments jumping back and forth between present woe and past vitality. But as we notice during her look back, certain scenes from his get repeated with new information he didn’t supply. Their respective guilt for the roles they played has transformed their memories in a way that reminds them of their errors. It keeps the sex, lust, and love intact not as a means to look back fondly, but instead to ensure they never forget what it is they lost—what they might have sustained.
And then the third segment enters unedited, Jake and Mati’s fated meeting and impossible love brimming over until neither can contain it. This shift is powerful, showing absolute truth without the cropping of personal perspective. It explains how the purest feelings can and often will find themselves stunted by life’s fickleness to be something wherein it doesn’t seem to fit. How our minds so easily push aside the type of raw experience Klinger presents with Jake and Mati in the throes of an uncontrollable yearning to be together is a mystery we will never solve. Once the moment passes and we recall where we are in life and what we hope to accomplish, we begin to have second thoughts. We start to wonder if it was even real.
But of course it was. No matter how many times you say you were someone else that night—a free creature shed of the existential weight anchoring us onto paths dictated by societal norms—you were there. You experienced it. I guess it’s just easier to pretend because the pain of acknowledging your fear of seeing what might have been is excruciating to endure. We constantly seek to label things and provide concrete cause and effect because there’s security in doing so. We try to remember there was no way around an unfortunate aftermath, that nothing could have changed the result. We become saddled with glimpses of the whole to create that narrative, not realizing how a piece of our soul was erased with those memories we suppressed.
This is why we can only see the full picture after watching their crushing defeat. We can’t know those moments in between because they’ll subvert the guilt ravaging them so completely. The present moments are therefore the parts that aren’t necessarily set in stone rather than the past. That night together presented them with a choice to be bold and throw caution to the wind, everything we see in Super 8 therefore becoming consequences of their refusing to do so. One could say Klinger and Gross leave us with this unbridled ecstasy of communion unbeholden to what comes next because Jake and Mari haven’t yet left that bed. Maybe their sorrow from missed opportunities and failed hopes was one possibility. Maybe their future has yet to be written.
It’s a beautiful sentiment if true—this notion that we can predict what will happen if we neglect our deepest desires because doing so inherently ensures we’ll never be whole. The dual time periods play similarly to Blue Valentine‘s bittersweet depiction of love being worth the risk despite proving to not be enough, but Porto‘s non-linear structure allows it to stop short of knowing whether it will or won’t regardless of seeing a result. By delivering the story in this way, we can hold out hope that things can change. We can accept that love can alter the very fiber of our beings even if we ignore what it craves. Maybe Jake will wake up earlier. Maybe Mati will come back. Maybe logic will be defeated by emotion.
So even though we witness the tragedy of their incomplete lives, a message of hope remains. Despite all the wrong turns they’ve taken, that single night of freedom never fully disappears. It’s a credit to Yelchin and Lucas that we can observe them betraying the other and still know their love is stronger. To watch them look longingly into the past is to recognize how important moments are to entire lives. And to have it presented with the blemishes and soft texture of actual film provides a dreamlike quality to these heavy themes of love and deception. They walk through the gorgeous streets of Porto as though characters in a fairy tale, each locale a checkpoint to use for reconnection and second chance. A happily-ever-after can be postponed.
[1-3] Lucie Lucas and Anton Yelchin in a scene from Porto, courtesy Kino Lorber