If José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia (2007) were reconceived as a contemporary gay drama, its opening might look something like the first minutes of Lucio Castro’s ND/NF 2019 entry End of the Century. Following a handsome fortyish man named Ocho (Juan Barberini) as he wanders the streets of Barcelona, browses Grindr, and jacks off alone in a tasteful Airbnb, the film is pleasingly languid, refreshingly bereft of outright incident. Unlike the floppy-haired flâneur of Sylvia, Ocho isn’t looking for anyone in particular. But when he later hooks up with Javi (Ramon Pujol), a guy with whom he shares a Before Sunrise-esque night in the city, he seems to have found that rarest of connections; he even feels as if they’d met before. To this, Javi responds: “We have.”
The cut that follows is an unquestionable high note of Castro’s film, transforming what had up to that point been a low-key, naturalistic pleasure into something far more unsettled and high-concept. Immediately after, we find ourselves once again in Barcelona, with Ocho once again wandering the city streets — though as a later incident makes clear, he hasn’t yet come to terms with his attraction to men. Through canny elisions, Castro attempts to draw out the absurd beauty of Ocho’s transformative chance encounters, creating — intentionally or not — a fitting complement to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011). But if End of the Century comes to feel like the less satisfying of the two, that’s largely because Castro overplays his hand. The particulars of how Javi re-enters the picture are best left for discovery, but suffice it to say that in building End of the Century towards a note of wistful longing, Castro neutralizes the productively ambiguous desires that animate the majority of his film. What had been, for a time, a seductively amorphous story, reveals itself to be a conventional tale of regret. And for the viewer, as well as its characters, it’s one that’s all too familiar.
Published as part of August 2019’s Before We Vanish.