A Film a Week - End of the Century / Fin de siglo

It is close to phenomenal how something so structured that, at times, it seems almost rigid, can be so faithful to what we see as the real life. In its core, Lucio Castro's debut feature End of the Century, is a triptych of snapshots of different timelines inhabited by two of the character. Two of the timelines are real, and one is pure fantasy.

First we meet Ocho (Juan Barberini) in the present day (yet, pre-corona, since the film's release year is 2019) Barcelona. He is a tourist, but rather a reluctant one: he spends his days walking aimlessly, eating alone and drinking beer in his Airbnb apartment. He botches his first attempt at a meet-cute moment with another guy at the beach, but, when he seas him from the balcony, he invites him to his place. The man, about Ocho's age, is Javi (Ramon Pujol) and he is a bit less eager to engage in a relationship or at least a quick hook-up, which eventually happens... There is a reason for that: Javi is married and he and his husband have a rule that they never risk the surge of emotions by sleeping with the same man twice.

Ocho and Javi try to remain friends, but the truth is that this was not their first encounter. They had already met 20 years before, when Ocho was a fresh-of-the-boat Argentinian student and Javi was the boyfriend of the former's landlord-friend Sonia (Mia Maestro). Until the end, Castro combines the long stretches of memories from the past times and the conversations from the nowadays. The fantasy part of the film is located at the very end, but it tries to cover the whole two decades of an alternative timeline, in which the two protagonists ended up as a couple, through one significant moment.

The pretext of the film suggests it is a gay version of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy compressed into a single, not even very long film, but Castro does something completely new here. Sure, there is some "touristic" value like in Linklater's films, but it is hardly the focus here. On the contrary, the streets of Barcelona in both of the timelines are usually devoid of the other people's presence, and the locations are not being shot in the way that highlights them. The focus is on the characters and the time and space between them.

End of the Century is a film about the passing of time more than it is about anything else. However, Castro does not employ the ordinary gimmicks like CGI (de-)ageing of the characters or make-up to create an impression that two decades have passed. Both of the actors play the same characters in both timelines that are signalled by the details casually spoken through the dialogue, stuff like AIDS still being THE thing and the Millennium Bug panic in one timeline and Airbnb in the other. Through the dialogue we also get some of the character points, like Ocho dropping his business administration studies to dedicate himself to writing poetry and Javi being a young and aspiring filmmaker before he ends up as a director of kids' shows on television.

The ageing happens on the inside and both of the actors are more than capable to channel it, while remaining faithful to their characters, their temperamental differences and shifts in their (couple) dynamics. In that part, they also get a significant help from Castro's screenplay, since the filmmaker quite realistically envisions them as the type of men who seem more mature than the average in their 20s, but also quite youthful in their 40s.

The rules of the game called life change over time and Castro manages to tell a highly original story about that. Formally rigorous and carefully thought of, End of the Century is a smart and sure-handed feature debut by the director who managed to keep the soul of his previous works in shorts.

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