A blast from the past in Lucio Castro’s intriguing relationship drama.
On the surface, the relationship at the heart of End of the Century (Fin de siglo, 2019) is conventional enough: a chance meeting, a shared glance, a moment of passion that quickly turns into a whole day spent in each other’s company. Yet as Lucio Castro’s touching, playful film unravels, we begin to see that Ocho (Juan Barberini) and Javi’s (Ramon Pujol) story is much more expansive than that, their love crossing the lines between past and present in impossible, startling ways.
Opening on impassive, candid-camera-like wide shots, we follow Ocho as he wanders around the city of Barcelona, killing time by exploring local attractions and sunning himself at the nearby beach, or simply exploring the luxurious Airbnb apartment he’s rented for his stay. But within this gorgeous city and its lavish views, there seems to be something missing for Ocho, his gaze taking in all the other joyful people around him as he tries to stave off his increasing boredom. The silence during these opening scenes is both beautiful and unbearable, the loneliness pervading the screen and reflecting Ocho’s obvious longing for a connection with someone (even a quick fumble with someone he can meet on Grindr). When he finally meets Javi, it’s almost a relief, the speed with which they jump into bed together surprising, but understandable. However, while their encounter seems to be nothing more than a messy afternoon between strangers, it’s soon revealed that there is a deeper connection that the pair share – long forgotten moments that go back to a time in both their lives when things were a lot more complicated.
Although this is a film about one couple, Castro’s narrative almost works as three separate short stories, each part unravelling in wildly different ways. It is credit to Castro’s superb writing then that he is able to weave them together into a coherent whole, the transition between each barely signposted – almost as if these scenes are real memories we’re suddenly slipping into. It’s here that Century works best, Castro’s beautiful story less about the building of a relationship, and more a metaphor for love and human connection itself. The realism with which Castro achieves all of this is striking to behold, his non-invasive direction (we rarely see any close-ups) and the natural performances from Barberini and Pujol pulling us into their world with ease, often making us feel as if we’re spying on actual private moments between the pair. Even when Castro dips his toe into elements of sci-fi later on, it’s done so subtly and organically that it’s nothing other than wholly believable, this unexpected turn actually making the couple’s connection all the more poignant and impactful.
And yet, there is something about Century that makes it hard to fully immerse ourselves in Castro’s story, that feeling of being on the outside looking in often frustrating and ultimately making it harder to connect to Ocho and Javi. It means many of those tender moments fall by the wayside, the loss of which affects the emotional power of Century’s later scenes. It also doesn’t help that the third act of Castro’s narrative (really the best part of the film) is barely explored before it’s all suddenly wrapped up, those ideas of missed opportunities and regrets touched upon in only the most fleeting of instances. Unfortunately it makes the whole film rather forgettable, that ending more of a damp squib than the gut punch Castro is aiming for.
For all its flaws though, Century remains an intriguing, romantic tale filled with engaging moments of realism. Those aspects of time and memory are brilliantly realised without taking away from the rest of the story, while the performances from Barberini and Pujol are beautifully authentic. Yet it is the bold and unexpected twist Castro uses to portray his ideas that makes this well worth a watch – a scene that will resonate with anyone who’s ever loved and lost.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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