Writer/director Lucio Castro’s intimate drama End of the Century sees two men meet and form a passionate connection before realising that they had met similarly twenty years earlier.
Brief Encounters in Barcelonaby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In a largely wordless opening, we see Argentinean Ocho (Juan Barberini, The Fire) arriving in Barcelona, looking up directions on his phone and checking into an Airbnb. He takes photos while sightseeing, checks Grindr without any success and casually people-watches.
Ocho eyes Javi (Ramon Pujol, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) from his balcony and then sees him again at the beach, heading into the sea after him but not making contact. Ocho later spots him again from the balcony and calls down to invite him up.
Drinks and chatting soon turns to kissing and sex before they meet again later and during a superb long scene, in prolonged two shot, they sit on a rooftop drinking wine, eating cheese and bonding over personal lives, family and feelings on parenthood.
At this stage Ocho feels a strange sensation that they may have met before which Javi confirms and suddenly we are taken back to Barcelona twenty years earlier. Ocho is staying with his singer friend Sonia (Mia Maestro, The Motorcycle Diaries), who is introduced with an intense and enthralling Almodóvar-esque story she tells about a past relationship. We learn that Javi has a connection to Sonia and, with Ocho feeling unwell, Javi helps to look after him. When Ocho recovers the pair spend a day together walking and bonding.
Revelations about both men’s lives contrast with the characters we have previously met. As day turns to night, the men gradually get drunk and then dance as their bond and attraction deepens, before we are brought back to the present.
Castro’s wonderfully naturalistic dialogue throughout, easily switching between casual chitchat and deep and meaningful conversation, is reminiscent of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011).
There are long scenes and takes of just the characters talking and it is always thoroughly engaging. In one scene, after some energetic sex both are still panting for breath while discussing the meaning of the name of a children’s TV show Javi is working on.
Of course the success of the film is also down to two super central performances and their very believable chemistry. As the reflective and brooding Ocho, Barberini is constantly sweeping his hair out of his face while Pujol’s Javi is more bright-eyed and optimistic.
The decision to have the same actors looking exactly the same in both time periods gives the film a fluency but also creates some uncertainty over the accuracy of the character’s past memories, a feeling that bleeds into later sequences.
The depiction of Barcelona is gorgeous throughout, from the sun sparkling on the sea to the dying embers of evening sunlight disappearing over the city skyline. Indeed, the repetition of scenes at sunset acts as an effective metaphor – relationships can be beautiful and fleeting and should be enjoyed while they last.
In just 84 minutes, End of the Century leaves a lasting impression and takes its place amongst the increasing number of excellent 21st-century gay-relationship dramas.
End of the Century is released on 21 February 2020 in the UK and on DVD and VOD from 23 March 2020.