A handsome man walks the sun-soaked streets of an exotic city, searching for escape or new romance (could they come hand in hand?). End of the Century has the makings of a classic, holiday romance. But that is not where writer-director Lucio Castro wants to take you for his debut feature. Whilst the likes of And Then We Danced and Call Me By Your Name are stories of first love, End of the Century is an affectionate film that looks back on a life of romance. This is a contemplative and delicate story that digs into the many complications that often follow love. And with time and reality both bending to Castro’s will, we are treated to a mellow narrative that has a few twists up its sleeves.
Our focus point is the life and love of Ocho (Juan Barberini), who is holidaying in Barcelona. After exploring his Airbnb, he peruses the local options on Grindr before giving up and masturbating, then proceeding to take the first of many showers (not a complaint). Whilst looking out on the streets from his balcony, Ocho’s attention is drawn by Javi (Ramon Pujol), who happens to pass by below. As if by fate, the pair cross paths again on the beach, but share only brief, flirty looks before Javi disappears again. Finally, the two are reunited near Ocho’s balcony. This time, their natural attraction is satisfied.
At first a pensive and patient observer, Ocho opens up to Javi on the rooftop as the pair shares wine and cheese after having shared a bed. This is our first glimpse into the romantic heritage both of them carry. Ocho just broke up with his boyfriend of twenty years, but he believes he will end up together again with him; Javi has been in an open marriage for two years and has a young daughter.
Everything is calm and still, with the tone reminiscent of Before Sunrise in the naturally flourishing companionship between these two men. Then, with one small exchange, the rug is pulled from under us. Ocho says, “I fell like we’ve met before.” “We have,” replies Javi. The screen cuts to black and reopens twenty years earlier to show us Ocho and Javi’s real meet-cute. This prior chapter is imbued with youthful energy, contrasting with the reflective and calm nature of what we first observed. But what remains the same in the past and present is the undeniable chemistry between Ocho and Javi. Instantly friends, and then something more.
If the twist concerning the revelation of the pair’s prior dalliance wasn’t enough, Castro plays with reality with a third act that delves into Ocho’s desires, extrapolating a future of what could have been with Javi. This hypothetical timeline has joy and beauty, repetition and boredom. Ocho comes to realise that he doesn’t know what he wants, especially when love and timing are at odds.
End of the Century is a pithy and concise exploration of the murkiness of Ocho’s heart’s desires. It is beautifully written and directed by Castro, and Barberini and Pujol present a tender dynamic that is essential to selling this story. Although Ocho looking down on Javi calls to mind a certain balcony in Verona, a Rome and Juliet-esque love story this is not. But it is full of internal conflict, lust, and, most importantly, compassion.
by Rahul Patel
Rahul Patel is a freelance writer covering Film and Television. His favourite films include When Harry Met Sally and Shrek 2. His special skill is knowing the complex Emmys rules. Follow him on Twitter @RahulReviews (if you’re brave enough).