Lucio Castro’s debut feature End of the Century has the essence of a fleeting affair that burns itself into your memory for years to come, and shows a confident authorial voice that holds a lot of promise.
Ocho (Juan Barberini) checks into an Airbnb in Barcelona spying a good looking man in the neighbourhood. Later they have a near miss on the beach, before the two manage to eventually hook up. What starts off as a sexy single night between Ocho and Javi (Ramon Pujol) slowly reveals itself to be more complex and intriguing. Castro begins with a keenly observed take on contemporary hookup culture; PrEP vs condoms, Grindr vs IRL, marriage and children before moving on to more interesting territory. If this sounds like it’s hitting some queer cinema cliches, don’t worry, this isn’t what you expect.
Which isn’t to say you should be waiting for some Sixth Sense-style twist, there is none, but the film moves fluidly through time and memory in a way that is as romantic and touching as the relationship between the two men. It is the liminal, contemplative moments of a life that are under the microscope here, the times right before or after the big events that change us.
Castro (who writes, directors and edits the film) and cinematographer Bernat Mestres favour long, locked off shots, allowing scenes to play out without interruption, letting us sit in on the long conversations. A languid montage of Ocho arriving at his Airbnb sets the tone, in a way that’s reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. A cinematic decompression that eases you in and out of the world of the film. Mixed with the beautiful backdrop of the backstreets of Barcelona (and a well styled apartment), it’s a stunning film.
To discuss the use of time may be something of a spoiler I’ll avoid (other reviews haven’t, but I enjoyed watching the film without the context and think you will too). What seduced me most about End of the Century was deft pacing, allowing the audience to fall behind the story, then catch up with its moves. No explanations are given, I was hypnotised by the journey.
Barberini and Pujol give razor sharp performances that reveal themselves more as things progress. Like the film itself, their moments bring a freshness to familiar scenarios. Both charming and sexy in different ways, the combination of their energies keep this intimate film (there are only three speaking roles) humming along.
I’ve seen some comparisons to Andrew Haigh’s brilliant Weekend, but I see more kinship with Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The warmth and languid sexual energy fill the screen with a similar intoxicating mix, albeit a totally different style of story. Just like those two films there is a broad appeal here that will speak outside the confines of the queer cinema community as well.
Some may find the storytelling a little bit obtuse, but for me it is what I come to independent cinema to see. Castro is a director I will be keeping an eye out for. End of the Century is a warming, balmy romance of a film, an affair I’ll remember fondly.
By Chad Armstrong
End of the Century opens at New York’s IFC Center Friday 16th August, with special filmmaker Q&As Thursday 15th, Friday 16th and Saturday 17th August 2019.