End of the Century

 

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A gay film that attempts a lot but unfortunately falls short.

 
End of the Century

Juan Barberini

 

This is not a film short of ambition. It marks the feature debut of the Argentinian filmmaker Lucio Castro who, as writer/director, has chosen to tell a story of two gay men who meet in Barcelona. Ocho (Juan Barberini) is holidaying there when he picks up Javi (Ramón Pujol) for a brief encounter. However, it leads on to further conversation and then to Javi's revelation that, although Ocho has not recognised him, they have in fact met before and in the same city. At that point the film abruptly goes into flashback in order to show their earlier connection. That had been some twenty years previously when the 20th century was coming to a close and Sonia (Mia Maestro), a friend of Ocho's, had introduced him to Javi who had just become her new boyfriend. At that time Ocho too had had a girlfriend, but the two men propelled by drink and carried away by the recorded sounds of 'Space Age Love Song' by A Flock of Seagulls had fallen into bed together.

 

The last quarter of the film returns us to 2019 and considers the different paths that the lives of these two might have taken had they not been so repressed about their true feelings in their youth. Although Maestro gives a strong performance, hers is little more than a cameo role since End of the Century comes close to being a two-hander for Barberini and Pujol. As such it might have played out as a routine gay movie relying for its appeal on handsome leading actors and candid sex scenes, but it is clear that on all levels Castro is seeking more than that. Some critics have found here echoes of the films of Antonioni due to a certain emphasis on architecture and a closing sequence of empty streets arguably indebted to his film The Eclipse. In any case there is evidence that Castro wants to make an arthouse film. Indeed this is apparent from how he opens the piece with footage of Ocho on his own in Barcelona during which time, regardless of two passing glimpses of Javi, there is no dialogue for over ten minutes. This is consciously adventurous filmmaking, but there is insufficient character in the filming to render it expressive enough to be in any way compelling.

 

After their encounter we see the two men talking and walking around the city and these scenes carry an echo of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise but, even though we now learn something about these two men (Javi has a husband and they have adopted a daughter whereas Ocho, seeking freedom, has just broken off a gay relationship that has lasted for almost twenty years), End of the Century never involves us to the degree that Linklater's film did - and that's so despite the competence of its lead actors. However, once it actually gets going this is a watchable film for much of its length and it does have at the heart of the long flashback a statement that appears to be key to the movie. It is the suggestion that Ocho's outlook stems from the belief that one finds freedom in transition but that reaching a destination is akin to death (lines about this are artily written up on screen over the images to stress its importance and only later did I discover that it was a quote from the artist David Wojnarowicz).

 

But, whatever weight one chooses to give to this idea, the final section of the film lets it down badly. Here we are offered what seem to be conflicting possibilities in scenes that are either past or present, real or imagined, and that are open to more than one interpretation. In all of this Castro appears to be striving hard for profundity as a serious artist, but his enigmatic manner, admittedly admired by some, struck me as unsatisfying. I found it less a case of achievement than an attempt at something currently beyond his grasp.

 

Original title: Fin de siglo.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Juan Barberini, Ramón Pujol, Mia Maestro, Mariano López Seoane, Helen Celia Castro-Wood.

 

Dir Lucio Castro, Pro Joanne Lee, Josh Wood and Lucio Castro, Screenplay Lucio Castro, Ph Bernat Mestres, Ed Lucio Castro, Music Robert Lombardo.

 

Alsina 427-Peccadillo Pictures.
84 mins. Argentina. 2019. Rel: 21 February 2020.
Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 18.