Written and directed by Lucio Castro
Starring Juan Barberini, Ramon Pujol and Mía Maestro
Running time: 1 hour and 24 minutes
by Ryan Smillie
There are few things more mortifying than being reminded that you’ve already met a person whom you presume to be a stranger. Revealing that you’ve forgotten, racking your brain to try to remember when you've met before, getting more embarrassed by the second - just thinking about it is making me shudder. Can you tell it’s happened to me before?
Though Lucio Castro’s End of the Century hinges on one such incident, it is no cringe comedy. Rather, it is a thoughtful meditation on the connections we make, the places life takes us and the effects they have on the people around us, whether or not we remember them. Unfortunately, this sensitive exploration is threatened by an overly enigmatic structure, one that does more to confuse the narrative than to elucidate its themes.
The film opens with Ocho’s (Juan Barberini) arrival in busy, but beautiful, Barcelona. Over a nearly silent 10-minute stretch, he makes his way through the city - to his Airbnb, a cafe, the beach - with only his phone as a companion. Barcelonans pass through the frame, moving in the opposite direction, their faces nearly always turned away or out of focus. That is, except for one man in a KISS t-shirt who keeps crossing Ocho’s path.
When the KISS t-shirt wearer passes by Ocho’s balcony the first time, Ocho’s interest is piqued. Then, on the beach, there he is again, but they are unable to read each other’s signals and they leave without speaking. Finally, he passes by Ocho’s balcony once more, and Ocho yells out his first line: KISS!
It turns out that this mysterious man is Javi (Ramón Pujol), staying with his parents next door while he visits from Berlin. The two men exchange biographical information (Javi is a children’s TV producer, Ocho a poet in New York) and start to hook up. At this point it becomes clear, if it wasn’t already, that the film is shot from a distinctly gay perspective. From the mismatched rate at which conversational and physical intimacy develop, to the way that the sex scenes, steamy but not explicit, actually look like two men having sex, Castro calls to mind other recent films informed by a lived-in gay experience, like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend or Dee Rees’s Pariah.
After their hookup, the conversation resumes where it left off. Ocho admits that he has just broken up with his partner of twenty years, while Javi is married with a daughter in Berlin. When Ocho remarks that it feels like they’ve met before, Javi reveals that, in fact, they have. The film then cuts to - well, what exactly? Castro wastes time building a mystery around precisely what is going on in this next section, thereby obscuring his sweet rendering of Ocho and Javi’s budding yet fleeting bromance (and then some). I found myself wishing that Castro would’ve done away with this mystery (that is resolved too easily anyway) to focus on the relationships that he develops so well.
Castro, clearly, has big ideas in mind; a later, more speculative, section broadens his exploration into the impact of paths taken and not taken. If Ocho and Javi had somehow stayed together, would their life be like the one Ocho described twenty years ago, like the one Javi is living at the beginning of the film? What would have happened to Sonia (Mía Maestro), the mutual friend through whom they met? Would Javi and Ocho be happy? This too is presented, at first, as a puzzle, a decision that would have been more effective had it not been preceded by a similarly obfuscatory plot device.
There’s a lot to recommend about End of the Century - a distinctly gay story, two captivating lead actors and I didn’t even mention that the movie left me desperate to plan a trip to Barcelona. However, there is simply just too much going on, and the elaborate structure hides what is best about the movie - its heart.
Written and directed by Lucio Castro