FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Porch Stories
RPL Film Theatre
Sept. 10-13
3.5 out of 5

In the spirit of John Cassavetes — if considerably more gentle — comes Porch Stories, a film that chronicles a day in the life of three households in Little Portugal, Toronto, during a hot summer weekend.

One tale focuses on Emma (Laura Barrett), a former musician in the process of moving out. Emma is engaged to Stefan, a caring if aloof individual who’s not quite on the same wavelength as her. Emma seems resigned to the idea of marriage, until a former flame materializes outside her porch. The interloper is Gabriel (José Miguel Contreras), one of those aimless, easygoing drifters who coast on their counterculture stance but have little else to offer. Emma finds herself torn, oblivious that there could be something calculated about Gabriel’s sudden resurgence.

Across the street, a bickering Portuguese couple sees their marriage disintegrate as a never-discussed indiscretion comes back to haunt them. Meanwhile, the ditzy neighbour next door must decide between the boyfriend she doesn’t care for and a suitor who’s too nerdy.

An unassuming yet biting portrait of city life, Porch Stories succeeds in many areas at which more expensive projects fail miserably: it builds a cohesive universe, the dialogue flows naturally and features properly developed leads. The black-and-white cinematography keeps the audience focused on the story and hides design shortcomings (very noticeable in low-budget productions). And while the cast is peppered with newcomers, the acting is strong, probably because nobody stretches beyond their area of confidence.

The open ending feels more like unwillingness to commit than artistic decision. And at 73 minutes, Porch Stories could have used further development — particularly after making us care for the characters. Still a pretty good film.