Writer and Director: Lucio Castro
With so many films focusing on people falling in love, the presentation and consideration of long-term relationships is largely left to the sappier television dramas where people have affairs or keep other explosive secrets from their spouses. Lucio Castro’s inaugural feature is, then, interesting on several levels as one of the few stories focusing on the impact of decades’ long intimacy in a same-sex marriage where the pressures of commitment, the changing nature of attraction and the desire for time alone are explored.
Arriving in Barcelona from New York, Ocho is a poet and airline marketing manager taking an extended vacation in his homeland after breaking-up with his partner of 20 years. Still young, he meets Javi who is visiting his parents and they spend a beautiful day together sharing stories about their lives and passions. But Ocho and Javi have met before, so as a jubilant memory of youth returns to them, it casts the present in a whole new light.
End of the Century is a film with many layers of both reality and meaning which writer / director Castro presents with no differentiation between past and present, or between realities. It trusts the audience to keep track of the unfolding perspectives while seeing clearly that Ocho and Javi are existentially intertwined, and that, coincidence and likelihood aside, some people are destined to find one another – a theme that sounds cheesy but is presented with a simple understatement that is no less heartfelt.
Much of the film is concerned with the nature of loneliness and the degree to which being alone is for some people a desirable state. There is no dialogue at all for the first 12-minutes of the film as Ocho locates his Airbnb rental while enjoying the historical and cultural possibilities of the city. And Castro suggests a quiet contentedness within Ocho as he eats in cafes and reads on the beach.
Later, in a conversation with Javi, Ocho meaningfully expands and elaborates on this visual storytelling, welcoming the chance to find himself after the break-up of a partnership that lasted half of his life, in a momentary cessation from responsibility and expectation where he can look for knowledge of his adult self. Javi, by contrast, married with a child, cannot bear the idea of being alone.
If the final segment of the movie feels unsatisfactory as the truth about Ocho’s situation is revealed and the easy courage to leave such a meaningful entanglement is spoiled, then Juan Barberini’s engaging and introspective performance makes up for it. At 40 he is not so much looking for answers as quietly contemplating who he has been, while Barberini makes for a meaningful lead, showing Ocho’s character stability, surety of opinion and desires but forced to reflect on how far his long-term relationships had taken him away from himself.
Ramon Pujol’s Javi has a great chemistry with Barberini, and the scene of their picnic overlooking the skyline of Barcelona is filled with their emotional and physical connection. But Javi has far less complexity as a character, quite straightforward, only there to reflect Ocho’s concerns and largely lacking a fully developed interior life of his own. This feels purposeful in the final third but as a blanker canvas it leaves Barberini to do most of the film’s heavy lifting.
There is a soft poetic quality to Castro’s filmmaking in this assured first picture, supported by the beauty of Bernat Mestres’ cinematography, filling the screen with the warmth and romance of summer. The challenges and compromises of long-term relationships are, regardless of the sexuality of these characters, an interesting point of exploration and while End of the Century has a stronger beginning than conclusion, it is refreshing to see, without the extra-marital affairs and silly secrets, the effect of togetherness on an individual who once dreamed of another kind of life.
Released on 21 February 2020