Anton Yelchin in Porto (Kino Lorber)

In Gabe Klinger’s narrative debut, two strangers, Jake (Anton Yelchin) and Mati (Lucie Lucas), live in a city foreign to them both—Porto, Portugal—and share one night: a lonely American backpacking through Europe and a slightly older French woman who’s awaiting her professor–turned–boyfriend. The plot doesn’t extend far beyond this premise. It’s a character study and has no pretense of being plot driven.

The movie presents the story in thirds: from Jake’s perspective, Mati’s (before and after their night together), and finally their shared one. Each of the three periods is shot on its own film stock, and the film pulls off this technical feat. Narrow 16mm amplifies a claustrophobic discomfort; the 8mm creates a home video aesthetic that indicates a homier time; and the use of full frame, which is restricted to the shared night, tells the audience that only now have these lost souls shaken their blinds.

However, while giving full credence to the film’s visual accomplishments, the narrative also reveals that Jake’s and Mati’s romantic lives are dysfunctional in the future, indicating that their chance meeting is special and extraordinary to them. But those scenes don’t make an apparent effort to convey why their romantic muscles have atrophied, nor what attributes or histories each has that make sparks fly in the first place.

We know how these two came together—it was by chance—yet we never learn why, neither in the scenes before or after their hookup, or the reason Jake is a loner and Mati is unsure and indecisive about her current relationship. But we do find out, by the narrative cutting from one time to another, that being a loner begets being a loner and that being romantically indecisive begets a relationship that doesn’t end cordially. The film spares us of witnessing any character development by merely telling us that it’s happened.

Nevertheless, the editing is great. Cuts to full frame from smaller aspect ratios are usually softened by fading in and out from black and by cutting to thoughtfully framed over-the-shoulder shots. The editing and the photography alone make the film worthwhile. However, there is simply isn’t enough going on. Yelchin and his character wander aimlessly; it usually seems that neither the character nor the actor have motivation. Unfortunately, the audience rarely observes Jake’s protracted actions but rather simply sees him walking through the city. Almost every conversation between Jake and Mati confuses intensity for intimacy (a common flaw in dramas and romances, to be fair) to the point where you can almost hear the writers typing on their keyboards as the actors converse.

Filling narrative chasms with merely aesthetic elements isn’t totally to the movie’s benefit, but it looks so beautiful that I never considered abandoning the movie.

Directed by Gabe Klinger
Written by Larry Gross and Klinger
English, French and Portuguese with English subtitles
Released by Kino Lorber
Portugal/USA/France/Poland. 76 min. Not rated
Anton Yelchin, Lucie Lucas, Paulo Calatré, and Françoise Lebrun