End of the Century Review
There’s almost a serene, ghostly air to End of the Century that manipulates time, memory and romance, artfully spinning a simple story into something far more evocative. Argentine director Lucio Castro’s debut film spans a 20 year period, although each moment we visit feels like a fluid continuation of the last. It would be tempting to suggest events venture into the realm of sci-fi at points, but that interpretation is left solely to the viewer. What does remain palpable throughout is a sense of regret and reflection as seen through the eyes of two men whose relationship perhaps holds more meaning than either realised until too late.
Given the picturesque locations and close conversations shared by Ocho (Juan Barberini) and Javi (Ramón Pujol) during their time together the obvious Richard Linklater comparisons are hard to avoid. But Castro has more narrative surprises up his sleeve than simply following the two men for the single day they share in Barcelona. Far more interestingly he elevates the premise of casual hook-up into a reflective 90-minute voyage about ideas of what might and could have been if different circumstances had occurred between them.
The opening 10 minutes silently focus purely on Ocho as he embraces his time in the city and his new found singledom after recently leaving behind a 20-year partnership. Down on the beach he’s drawn toward Javi who is taking a dip in the sea, but missed signals mean they both go home alone. That is until Ocho spots Javi from the balcony of his apartment wearing a KISS T-shirt (which has greater significance later on) and calls him up to meet. The two soon fall into bed and later agree to meet up again that evening.
At this stage you probably have confidence about where things are heading. Castro’s simple direction allows the dialogue to flow between the couple and forms the platform for the dashing Barberini and Pujol to naturally find the rhythm of their conversations. Standing atop the rooftop sharing cheese and wine while a gorgeous mauve sunset illuminates the skyline, they talk about previous and current relationships, kids and family, before an unexpected flashback recontextualises everything.
It’s at this point that End of the Century moves into new territory, jumping back 20 years to 1999 after Javi confirms Ocho’s suspicion this isn’t the first time they’ve met. Yet while the same two actors are used and neither are de-aged (this isn’t The Irishman), you instantly fall into the new timeline without hesitation. It’s testament to both the direction and performances that come before that allow to this ‘mind trick’ to be pulled off so effortlessly. You’re already invested in the characters and performances and are willing to take a leap of narrative faith along with them.
If there is any hesitation about believing that one man had forgotten about the other completely, it’s worth asking yourself if you can remember the face of someone you met for only a few hours two decades ago, regardless of how intimate it may have been. Regardless of age, memory is fleeting and often reconstructs itself around the lives we are living in the present as a self-protective act of reassurance. What we believe and feel evolves and mutates through time, no matter how deeply entrenched it feels in the moment, and Ocho and Javi’s story is marked with much the same sort of progression.
The unchanged appearance of the couple across both time periods also has strong thematic meaning, removing the bookmark from the pages of their lives and blurring the start and end point of their relationship. That finds further layers in a final 15-minute segment that uses details of the previous two acts to transform the dynamic of Ocho and Javi into a fantasy of sorts. Once again it merges the boundaries of what’s real and imaginary, and manages to do so without jarring the viewer out of the moment, instead heightening the film’s emotional resonance.
By encapsulating the changing nature of their relationship over two decades, Castro also summarises the evolution of gay culture during the same period. From adopting and raising kids and coming out more freely, to the arrival of PrEP reducing the fear of AIDS that was so prevalent in the ‘90s. Where we see Ocho have his first cruising experience, years later the convenience of an app now offers the same amount of directness with more privacy. It’s these kinds of changes and moments that shape the course of two men who manage to reconvene through fate, but are also likely to be kept apart because of it.
End of the Century is available to VoD now from Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player