Though he is probably best known to mainstream audiences for his recurring role as Pavel Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboots, the late Anton Yelchin actually cut his teeth on the indie scene with a string of bold, nervy performances in art house hits like House of D, Only Lovers Left Alive, Rudderless, and Like Crazy. So it’s only fitting that one of Yelchin’s final onscreen performances should be in writer-director Gabe Klinger’s gritty, time-bending love story, Porto, a film that is just about as challenging and arty as they come.
Premiering to massive buzz at the San Sebastián Film Festival in September of 2016 – just a few months after Yelchin’s untimely death in a freak car accident – Porto has played at film festivals around the globe in the interim. And while it is not a perfect film by any means, Yelchin’s raw, emotional performance will definitely stick with you for days afterwards.
Taking its name from the breathtakingly cinematic Portuguese city where it is set, Porto is the story of how one fateful night forever alters the lives of American-born wanderer Jake (Yelchin) and French college student Mati (Lucie Lucas). Told through a series of beautifully-shot flashbacks and flashforwards that artfully interweave the complicated lives of the two lovers before, after, and finally during their one transformative night together, Porto aims to be a brooding, digital-age Before Sunrise but ends up being far more memorable for the compelling performances of the two leads. Especially Yelchin who inhabits Jake’s shiftless, older-than-his-years vibe with a twitchy, almost James Dean-ian fervor that is impossible to ignore.
Unfortunately, neither character is ever fleshed out enough to truly drive the story towards the soulful gut-punch that the film’s tortured romance deserves. And the film as a whole is never as deep and meaningful as it thinks it is. But the fact that Yelchin’s performance in Porto is one of his last adds a whole other layer of sadness and loss to the proceedings. For although Lucas is radiant in her star-making turn as Mati, the film’s script by Klinger and veteran Prozac Nation and We Don’t Live Here Anymore scribe Larry Gross is clearly slanted towards Jake.
Porto is still definitely worth a look. Especially for Yelchin fans still reeling from the loss of this hugely talented young actor.
The movie has yet to debut in theaters stateside but is continuing to make the rounds at film festivals everywhere and is playing throughout the month of July on select Emirates and EVA Air flights worldwide.