CPFF 2018: Porch Stories
“Fragments of conversations from passersby are overheard as they walk past the porches of the neighbourhood. Odds and ends of random bits of comments float past like twigs in a stream.”
Porch Stories (2014) — directed by Sarah Goodman
When I was in first year at the University of Toronto (U of T), I took a class called “Literature for our Time” taught by Professor Nick Mount. It wasn’t until my following year that I realized that Professor Mount had spoiled myself and my fellow students for other English lit classes. This is what I had yearned for in high school English classes and didn’t get. His intellectual readings of the books he had chosen for the course helped encourage me to discuss novels with my classmates the way I always wanted to. There were times during his class where his lectures were so insightful, so moving, that they managed to make me feel hopeful about my future career. It’s not as if he turned his lectures into self-help seminars or anything, but his interpretations of novels drew empathetic life-lessons from the material.
“If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” by Jon MaGregor was one of the novels that was required reading for the class. In it, a stream of consciousness style narrative is used to illustrate the perspectives and events of the various inhabitants of a neighbourhood over the course of one day. While reading it, I thought that Toronto would be the perfect setting for this type of story. Just like the neighbourhood in the novel, there are so many disparate people here, living out their lives tenuously connected to each other whether they realize it or not. The fleeting encounters, the choices people make, all effect or even reflect each other’s.
Watching Porch Stories brought me back to that time in first year uni and reading “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” with the Toronto setting that I had hoped for. Porch Stories has that same narrative stream of consciousness flow to it and it jumps around to various members of the neighbourhood to allow for bite-sized glimpses into their present. The high school girl Brianna (Hallie Switzer) who has a crush on a guy too old for her and makes music with her brother. The nosy elderly woman Maria (Uerania Silveria) watching her neighbours as if it were her own personal soap opera. Her husband Antonio (Sergio Sarmento) forlornly shaking his head at his wife’s rubbernecking. Even fragments of conversations from passersby are overheard as they walk past the porches of the neighbourhood. Odds and ends of random bits of comments float past like twigs in a stream.
The character whose life we get to share the most time with is Emma (Laura Barrett). There is an air of melancholy that seems to follow her around as she wanders aimlessly around her house. The only thing that seems to really give her joy during her honest alone time is creating her music in secret. She keeps her underlying sadness well hidden from her fiancé Stefan (Alex Tindal) by smilingly focusing on their big move. That is, until an old bandmate Gabriel (Jose Miguel Contreras) shows up unexpectedly at her door, looking for a place to rent. Both are surprised yet pleased with the coincidence and he shares stories about his globetrotting travels. Emma is happy to relive old times and yet unwilling to talk about how it affects her present.
Emma seems to have as much certainty about what she wants from life as her flighty teenaged neighbour—Emma just has more experience in concealing her true feelings. She is the cool and wise neighbour to Brianna who seemingly has all the answers to the teen’s questions. “What do you do when you like two boys at the same time?” “What do you do when you’ve captured an injured pigeon?” Emma gives quick answers with confidence. She has so much less certainty when dealing with her own life and the people in it.
The film is in lovely black and white, giving it a simple bare-bones feel. The story’s pace feels lyrical, taking its time to reveal its characters and their hidden hurts that have festered over time. The dialogue has a realistic feel to it and is just as much about what is being said as what isn’t.
As I stated previously, Toronto is a perfect setting for this kind of story. As a Toronto native, I can easily recognize this type of neighbourhood and the people who populate it. Although the film exists on the micro level with Emma and her individual story, its narrative and setting also suggest at a bigger picture that her story fits into. The choices that you make matter and will make a psychic impression on those around you. It’s the little moments that really count.
PORCH STORIES screens at Christie Pits Film Festival on Sunday, July 1 with short films Whatever Happened to Jackie Shane? (Lauren Hortie, Sonya Reynolds) and Bickford Park (Linsey Stewart, Dane Clark).