Lucio Catro’s Barcelona summer set sensual gay romance End of the Century had its world premiere at The Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films festival earlier this year. It went on to win best Argentinian film at the Beunos Aires Film Festival, before playing at LA’s Outfest and San Franscico’s Frameline, where Castro won Best First Feature. It opens in New York on Friday 16th August.
Ahead of the film’s release The Queer Review’s James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with End of the Century’s writer and director Lucio Castro in New York.
James Kleinmann: Can we talk about your inspiration for the film, it feels like it must have autobiographical elements because it’s so intimate and detailed.
“I’m not any of the characters, but I am all of them. Even the Sonia character played by Mía Maestro; the story that she tells is something similar to what happened to me. And of course there is a lot in it that’s made up. I started writing the movie in a completely linear way, with a man arriving in a town. As I was writing it I was also kind of reading it – I felt like I was reading a book as I was writing it – so it wasn’t like I was consciously thinking ‘I need to make a relationship movie’. It was just a guy who arrives in Barcelona, starts running around, then of course maybe he wants to meet someone and maybe they’ve met before, so let’s go back and tell that story. That’s how I wrote it and that’s how I developed it. But of course their experience, I wanted it to be based in something very relatable, truthful. Things that felt truthful in my world, realistic to me. I felt like the more rooted in an emotional reality it was, a kind of relationship reality, the more I could play with time and space.”
I like the way that you use place and time in the film. When it goes back it felt to me more like a memory than a movie flashback. That idea that it becomes more vivid, it’s as he remembers it. You talked about the opening of the film. I liked how you take your time with that. Could you talk about your choices there and how as a filmmaker you managed to make that engaging.
“I love the idea of when you’re alone somewhere you’re much more aware of your surroundings. I really wanted to show that in the film. I feel it all the time. When I’m alone in a restaurant or in a new city, I’m very aware of everything that’s going on. I might eavesdrop on someone’s conversation and start to be curious, ‘who is this person, where is she going to?’ I feel very aware of my surroundings. I’m more interested in the world. When I’m with someone, a friend or whatever, it just becomes a one on one thing and the rest kind of becomes background, it evaporates. At the opening of End of the Century it’s almost 13 minutes of just Ocho in the city. So by making it a little bit extra long, also in the editing it takes a bit longer, I could get that across. Everything lingers just a tad longer and that then created a contrast with Ocho, Juan Barberini’s character, speaking, because the rest of the movie is quite dialogue based I guess. I like that contrast. Once they start speaking it opens a dialogue stream that goes on for the rest of the film.”
There’s that air of taking in a new place and also of possibility, Ocho’s just broken up with someone as well hasn’t he.
“Yes, he’s at that stage. There are a few things like when he gets lost in the maze, that of course you could say that’s how he feels in life right now, he’s in a new city, in a new space. Him looking at people walking by. Probably he’s wondering what is his new place is in the world. He’s looking at people walking by. Does he miss the other person perhaps? By being so aware of the city I wanted the feeling of him looking for something. I wanted him to express his feelings not through his face, but through his interaction with the city and the city interacting with him as well.”
Casting is always important, but in this film it was particularly vital to get right because you’ve got just three speaking roles. Mía Maestro who plays Sonia I believe you’ve known for a long time, but then the two guys Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol were new to you as actors weren’t they. How did you bring them together?
“The main thing of the film after writing it was looking for an actor to play Ocho. I felt like once I found him I could then find the other actors. I work with a casting director in Buenos Aires, and I wanted the actor playing Ocho to be Argentine, and she had just finished a play with Juan and she sent me a tape of the play and I saw a movie he was in. She gave me a few more options, but she really felt like he would be great. I talked to Juan and he’s an extremely intelligent person, in fact he totally changed the movie and the way we play with time, the transitions being flat, that’s something we discussed with him. Juan was really smart, and asked the right questions so that’s why I picked him. He also wanted to be involved in the selection of the other guy just because he’s an actor who really cares, he cared about so many aspects of the movie. Ramon Pujol was recommended to me also. I picked him because he was very different to Juan, who comes across as much more assured, whereas Ramon is much more vulnerable and adds a sweetness to it and I felt like that character who remembers more needed to have a bit more of that about him. Mía is a friend. It’s such a small part, but in the end it was great that it was her. I was so happy she did it.”
She brings a lot to it though. I’d like to see more of all their work, but I was particularly impressed by her.
Well, the new film that I’m working on, which will be in English, shot in New York, Mía’s playing the main character.”
Oh is she? Good. Could you talk a bit about the look of the film, the production design and cinematography. Did you want to do something to visually distinguish the two time periods?
“Everyone until the last minute wanted to do the past differently. The cinematographer said ‘why don’t we use different light in the past?’ Also at the end, the colour corrector in Spain said we could use different tones for the past. But I said ‘no, no, no’ because for me what’s nice is that it’s a linear thing, because it’s memory and memory is not really about that. You know, when I recall myself in the past I don’t see myself differently. I see myself the way I am now but in the past. It’s subjective memory, so I wanted to keep that. And keep it all on the same level. Also it’s much easier to shoot of course, so there were other advantages of shooting it that way. But it’s the way I think we remember things. When I look back I’m always myself as I am now in my childhood home, I’m not me as a teenager. “
“The way we shot it, the cinematography, I wanted a fixed camera so it was really about the actors. There are only two times in the film where we used a handheld camera, one is in the ocean and one is when they dance, so one in the present and one in the past. And they are both moments when they are trying to connect. The dancing was just too static with fixed cameras, we tried a few angles, but it was much better following them with the handheld camera. The film was shot using available light, natural light, so it was very simple to light, because we didn’t light it!”
“The locations are the main production design. I found the apartment in the past which is very Spanish, very nineties Barcelona. With books, and lamps and art, very lived-in. And the one in the present is sterile, it’s nice and well designed, but a sterile Airbnb apartment.”
With an empty fridge too. Well, apart from the beers, which I guess the last guest left! What about Barcelona, was it always that city in your script?
“Yes, it was always Barcelona. I made a short film that went to Cannes, Trust Issues, so I was in Cannes with that and then I wanted to spend two months in Barcelona. That’s when I decided to make a film there. It’s super easy to shoot there. We shot in every museum, in front of Goyas with no security guards around and it was all legal, all free, all with permits. It was very open and easy for us to shoot there, and on the beach, the streets anywhere.”
Very different to shooting here in New York.
“Yes, so different! So difficult. I’ve done it, but it’s always without permits, running around with a very small crew, but it’s very, very hard. But with Barcelona, it’s a city of contrasts, there’s the sea, it’s very old, gothic in one part then super modern buildings, a lot of culture, a lot of tourists. Also it needed to be a city in the summer for this story I think, I feel like it has that Rohmer’s diary A Summer’s Tale thing, at least that’s how it started in my mind. So we need a vacation summer city for the location. But I didn’t know Barcelona that well when I wrote it. I wrote it mainly looking at Google! When I got there of course I did more location work with real spaces, and many things changed when I started talking to people. But a lot was done online. I like the idea of almost writing a city and then trying to get the city to match what you’ve written. It almost feels that the city was something I’d written in the story.”
The sex scenes felt very real, not ‘movie sex scenes’. There’s also character things going on with talk of PrEP and condoms, and in the flashback we see the outdoor cruising scene and Ocho’s concern about HIV.
“Sex of course is a big part of the movie. I wanted the sex scenes to feel real. Juan had just shot a movie where the director asked him and the girl he was shooting the scene with to just look like they were having sex and he would take a few shots from there. Juan said it was so exhausting, like a whole day and it was just a bit awkward. In the final cut of that film just two simple shots were used. So Juan thought it would’ve been better for the shots to have been planned out in the first place, like it’s going to be these shots ‘go and stop’. It would’ve been much better and more more intense. So that’s how we did it, ‘let’s choreograph it, this is what you’re going to see, this is the camera angle’ and and it was ‘go and stop’. It was super fast to shoot. It’s also so physically exhausting to do sex scenes for the actors and of course they are both naked, so it was done really fast and they were both very good. The only direction I gave them in that scene was to try to forget about looking good, because when people are having real sex nobody looks good, you know. So that was the one thing. So we tied a few different things with Ramon, but in the end it was very simple.”
“The use of PrEP and condoms…there’s a thing with gay sex, trust is always to me interesting. Gay men can be very giving with their bodies and with sex, but then they can have issues with trust. After having sex, they can be like ‘no, not this’. So when Juan tells him that he’s on PrEP and to trust him, I thought that was an interesting moment for them, he has no idea whether it’s true or not. You would assume that if you are with someone in bed they would be truthful. I feel like if it was a straight couple they would trust each other more. If one says ‘I’m on PrEP’, the other person would be like ‘OK, fine’. But I feel like with gay sex trust is an interesting thing. People can be very anonymous and easy with sex , but when it gets more intimate it can be more complicated. I entered my sexual life with a fear of AIDS, a real fear, and now this generation doesn’t have that fear at all because they didn’t experience people dying. So to me still the idea of casual sex without a condom, it’s a very strong experience that I feel the new generation doesn’t have, so I wanted to contrast that as well. We are in that time where there’s that switch.”
“Cruising in the park, I included that because it was Ocho’s first encounter almost by mistake and how he reacts to it. He gets sick after that. His body reacts to it. “
Offline, outdoor cruising does of course happen today, but on film it seems like a period element doesn’t it?
“That’s true, right now there’s a lot less cruising than before, meeting on the street, now it’s more Grindr and the film definitely does contrast that as well for sure.”
I know you are also a fashion designer and I wondered how you see filmmaking and design as being related. Also, in terms of the costumes in the film, they are very simple, but I’m sure you put thought into how they reflect the characters. The colours for instance.
“Yes, the colours for sure. That’s definitely one thing that we thought about. We kept the colours in the present bright. So he wears a yellow t-shirt, green t-shirt, a red t-shirt, primary colours, and in the past they were neutrals like greys. The rest is pretty simple. I just wanted it to be two people. I didn’t want it to distract too much, it was just what I would wear in my real life. The way that I approach clothing design is always very story driven and I feel like this movie is also very story based. I think that’s the one idea that connects both things. I design inspired on a story that I connect with and this movie isn’t like an impressionist Terrence Malick movie or about the camera, it’s about the story. But I don’t think it feels fashiony. I mainly work as a designer for a huge company in China, I present stories for them, I create a mood board with inspiration for them and I do research on the theme and I offer some ideas of how to interpret that story into clothes, with sketches and photos and other ideas. Then I go back around three months later and they show me what they’ve done and then we do a fashion show which I also try to include some story and narrative in as well.”
The two disciplines of filmmaking and fashion design are more related than people might think aren’t they. I remember talking to Tom Ford a few years back for his film A Single Man about that. Who inspires you in terms of other filmmakers?
“I watch movies constantly, honestly. I love so many filmmakers. For this movie specifically I looked at a lot of Éric Rohmer, whose work I always love. I love the Korean director Hong Sang Soo. I loved Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. I’m a huge fan of Fellini and Pasolini. There are so many filmmakers that I love. Christian Petzold too. Olivier Assayas I love as well. But definitely for End of the Century it was Rohmer. I like that Rohmer has a very simple diary style of filmmaking and I love Hong Sang Soo’s playfulness with time and story, that repetition that he does as well. I’m sure I’m forgetting so many, but that’s who’s coming into my mind right now.”
In terms of an LGBTQ film that’s meant a lot to you is there one film that stands out?
My Beautiful Laundrette by Stephen Frears I loved that the first time I saw it. Wonder Boys, the character that Tobey Maguire plays I thought was a great depiction of a gay character that wasn’t just your typical gay character. Fox and His Friends and Querelle by Fassbinder, I love those. I feel like Fassbinder’s movies in general, there’s always homosexuality very present in some way or another, even in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, even though it’s a straight couple, it’s his lover, the main male character is actually Fassbinder’s lover and that’s so present in the film. I love his movies, he’s a huge inspiration. When I started thinking about writing End of the Century I thought about Mía Maestro and thought about making a film about a straight couple, but then I realised that it would feel a little bit forced because there were so many things that were based on my experience, it felt like I was transposing things too much almost. So that’s why I changed it. I realised that was something that I shouldn’t have been fearful about and I won’t be in the future.”
People have compared End of the Century to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
“I like Weekend and I like the comparison.”
With that film there was a big crossover in terms of it not just being gay men or LGBTQ audiences that went to see it. Have you had that feedback with this film as you’ve taken it to festivals and shown it around the world?
“Yes, at the Buenos Aires Film festival there wasn’t a gay audience and people really liked it. People who’ve told me they like it have been both straight and gay. A lot of women and also straight men connect with it differently. I feel as an audience member that there’s definitely something great when you’re gay and you can see that someone is telling your story, you feel listened to or represented in a way that I really do feel is important, but I also feel that you can also be represented by a feeling or a situation or in so many ways when it’s two guys talking to each other. The structure, the playfulness with time, I think that appeals to you as just the experience of watching the movie. “
End of the Century opens Friday 16th August 2019 at New York’s IFC Center with a special advance screening tonight Thursday 15th August at 7pm followed by a Q&A with Lucio Castro moderated by Alan Cumming. There will be further Q&A screenings at IFC Center on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th, hosted by Newfest. End of the Century opens at Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre 20th September with Q&A screenings opening weekend and at San Francisco’s Opera Plaza Cinemas on 27th September, followed by other US cities.