Sexy, contemplative, and unrestrained, Lucio Castro’s End of the Century weaves a poignant tale of a Barcelona love affair that lingers in the mind
by Steve Murray
October 18, 2019
Featured image: Juan Barberini in Lucio Castro’s End of the Cenury. Images courtesy of Cinema Guild.
Both ethereal and earthy, Argentinian writer-director Lucio Castro’s memorable debut feature End of the Century (opening Oct. 18 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema) starts off with a sequence of pure cinema. A tourist, Ocho (Juan Barberini) arrives in Barcelona from his home in New York. We follow him as he checks his phone’s GPS to locate his Airbnb, then wanders the city and eventually stretches out in the sand on the beach.
There, he eyes another attractive man, Javi (Ramon Pujol) – though he won’t learn Javi’s name until a serendipitous re-encounter later that afternoon. That happens 12 minutes in. Until then, the movie is dialogue-free – a sequence that silent filmmakers, or masters of mise-en-scène like Hitchcock, could appreciate.
Calling down from the balcony, mock-admiring the vintage KISS T-shirt the other man is wearing, Ocho invites Javi up to his flat and they get busy in a refreshingly frank afternoon sex scene. In the awkward, fumbling, post-sex moments that follow, it seems unlikely these two intimate strangers will ever see each other again. So it’s a surprise when Javi texts Ocho later and invites him to hang out that evening.
Javi once lived in Barcelona, it turns out, but his base is now Berlin. Ocho has visited before, but in some ways the city is ripe for rediscovery by both. They wander around, buy some cheese and bread and wine and enjoy an al fresco, sunset picnic on a rooftop. Between bites and sips, they share their histories – both have complicated personal lives – and you hardly notice that the entire sequence is a single take. Toward the end, Ocho says he has a strange feeling that he and Javi have met before. Javi’s response triggers a slam-cut edit that resets the narrative in a way that is, at first, mysterious.
Once again we watch Ocho wandering the streets of Barcelona, trying to find his way, but this time using a map instead of a smart phone. He arrives at the apartment of his Argentinian friend, professional singer Sonia (Mía Maestro). Catching up, he asks her about her ex boyfriend, their point of connection. And she asks him about his girlfriend, Esther.
At this point, you may think we’re seeing some altered reality, maybe a parallel universe version of Ocho’s life. That’s because he looks exactly as he did in the first part of the movie. In fact, this new sequence is a flashback. Writer-director Castro chooses not to try to de-age Barberini, or Pujol, either, when he shows up later. (It works, and even seems to underscore one of the many quiet ideas thrumming through the movie. In our own minds, we are the same people we were 20, even 30 years ago – even if our actions and emotional attachments were quite different then. A 70-year-old man, inside, still thinks of himself as 17, after all.)
End of the Century has made the rounds of gay film festivals; it was featured in Atlanta’s latest Out on Film just a few weeks back. And yes, on a superficial level, it’s an easy niche product. The sex scenes are hot, but in contrast to those very fleshy moments, the ideas in Century are delicately abstract. It’s a slow-moving, short film that can seep into your consciousness. Like a piece of music, it has three distinct movements: the present, the past, and a coda that is a both wish fulfillment and melancholy speculation.
As much as its ideas, Century is distinguished by Castro’s formal approach. He creates echoes, visually and in his script. The film includes two, single-take rooftop conversations, scenes where two men separately retch over a toilet, two visits to a pharmacy, and those two sequences of Ocho searching for his lodgings. Then there’s that KISS T-shirt, a recurring talisman. Castro gently slips those elements in, and I probably missed some others; they chime onscreen, rather than clang.
The two lead actors, on their own, can seem a little self-conscious. Together they have terrific rapport. That’s especially true in another uncut take, spanning the nearly four-minute length of a Flock of Seagulls song. Tired, tipsy but high on the moment, Ocho and Javi dance around a living room in a sequence that’s unrestrained, delirious, and suddenly hot beyond all expectation.
End of the Century reminded me more than anything of Andrew Haigh’s wonderful 2011 film Weekend, only with an extra, metaphysical component. Enjoyable strictly for its surface pleasure, it’s also a lovely meditation on the lonely passage each of us makes through the world, and the joy, however brief, of those times we connect with a fellow pilgrim.
Steve Murray is an award-winning arts journalist who has written about film, theater, books, and television for a quarter century.
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