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Gabe Klinger • Director

“All the best romantic films are set in Europe”


- Director Gabe Klinger brings Porto, his first fiction film and a dazzling ode to cinema, love and love of cinema, to the BFI London Film Festival

Gabe Klinger • Director
Gabe Klinger, at the recent San Sebastián Film Festival (© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Just a few weeks after its global premiere in San Sebastián’s New Directors Section, US-based Brazilian filmmaker Gabe Klinger’s first incursion into narrative filmmaking, Porto [+see also:
film review
interview: Gabe Klinger
film profile
, is screening at the 60th BFI London Film Festival. The film has been shortlisted for the Sutherland Award for First Feature Competition. Cineuropa sat down with the director to find out more.

Cineuropa: What made you decide to make your first fictional film in Europe?
Gabe Klinger:
I think all the best romantic films are set in Europe. So many films have been made already in London and Paris, and I had never seen a film set in Porto, other than the work of Manoel de Oliveria. I loved having the opportunity to really think about these two characters and the lives they might lead in this place, drawing on various abstract elements like the particular light in the city, the visual angles of the streets... Porto is a city that feels a little bit lost in time, and so, as a setting for a story about two people who are lost themselves, it works very well.

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You made some intriguing structural choices in the film, for example the different formats for the past and the present, the use of the Super 8 camera... Can you explain the thinking behind that?
Production style plays a very prominent role in the film, and to my mind the shooting format is key to understanding the time shifts in the narrative. I think that the 35 mm format, the 16 mm, the Super 8...all of them convey something specific; the ideas that I wanted to get across could only be projected through those formats. For the parts of the film that are shot on Super 8, I went out on the streets with Anton (Yelchin) and Lucie (Lucas) myself, and we filmed the scenes without any other crew around. These narrative ideas are what channel the emotions of the characters, and they allowed us to make a connection with the viewers’ memories and trigger those memories through the medium of film. As for the shift between the square format for the present and the panoramic format for the past, I think that we perhaps tend to remember certain things that have happened in our lives in an almost cinematic way, with a slightly more glamorous sheen.

Can you tell us a bit about the music?
We included Shake It Baby by John Lee Hooker, which is a song that Godard wanted for the famous dance scene in Band of Outsiders, only he didn’t have the money to get it. We were fortunate enough to be able to use it ourselves, and finally fulfil Godard’s vision! There are also some songs by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, a nun from Ethiopia who recorded jazz compositions on piano in the 1960s and 70s. Our music supervisor, Daniel Vila, introduced me to her music, which we added during the editing stage. It fit so beautifully with the tone of the film that we never even considered any other soundtrack.

Thinking now about the narrative core of Porto, what was it about love that you wanted to explore with this film?
When you start thinking about your past experiences of love, it stirs up feelings that can be bittersweet or melancholy and you wonder what could have happened differently in those relationships; today, with social media, you can even see your exes getting on with their lives—but we didn’t want to signal the time period in such an obvious way. You don’t need to see a picture of your ex-girlfriend on Facebook to remember her—it’s enough to see a certain plant or flower, or to detect a certain smell, and you’re back in the moment. The film is to some extent a reflection on these experiences that everyone has, and how they change us as time goes by and continue to have an influence over us in the present.

There were some big names involved in the film, like Jim Jarmusch and Chantal Akerman, although in the end she didn’t appear. How did you convince them to take part?
We needed someone who would put a seal on the project. Right at the start, we got Anton for the principle role and Jim as producer, thanks to a mutual friend. They got involved in everything and read various different versions of the script—they always came up with something to consider and talk over. As for Chantal, I’ve always loved her voice, and ever since I met her for the first time we’ve got on really well. I wanted to try something out with her, as a kind of homage, because I think that all of my films have been influenced by her work. She ended up accepting my proposal, and we recorded passages from a poem by Fernando Pessoa. We started to play around with her voiceover while we were editing the film, and it worked in some places but in others it didn’t. After Anton died, and with Chantal also having passed away, it just seemed too sombre for the film, even a little bit morbid. So we took out Chantal’s voice entirely. It was an instinctive decision, and a painful one, but for me she is still there; when I watch the film, I imagine her voice. In fact, we’re planning on using the recording in a sound installation in collaboration with the National Centre for Visual Arts in France, which will be travelling to various museums I think either this year or next.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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