End of the Century (“Fin de siglo”) (Lucio Castro, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
We’ve seen this story before. Two characters meet by chance while on a getaway in a European city and end up passing time there with one another. It’s brief, yet the mark of such an encounter feels infinite. But as much as director Lucio Castro’s debut feature about two lovers, Ocho and Javi, and the fleeting and infinite connection between them, feels familiar, it also pushes itself into the unknown.
Ocho is a man unbound from commitment. He celebrates his freedom from what he says was a twenty-year relationship by indulging in just that: freedom. Javi is in an open marriage but is bound by his love for his young daughter. None of this matters at first. Their initial attraction is palpable from the most casual of early glances. Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol, who play Ocho and Javi respectively, both embody an acute sort of masculinity that at once feels both antithetical and indistinguishable. The chemistry between them, which often manifests itself into long conversations and steamy hookups, wafts through every scene. Even on the rare instance when these two are apart, you feel the other’s presence, or the lack thereof.
And while late-night dances to “Space Age Love Song” with a near-stranger may seem like an idyllic romantic memory, this movie questions whether it may be just that: a memory. It is a love story for a world whose romantic connections seem to largely exist in the realm of dating apps and occasional trysts in one’s ill-furnitured Airbnb. It cannot be Before Sunrise because in a pre-Y2K world these characters are too scared they may be dying to chase what they want, and in a post-Y2K world they are too aimless to know what their wants are. They have both been deprived of a curve of normalcy in their romantic relationships, causing them both to magnify their brief and fun encounters into potentially tragic missed connections. The latter half of the film would seem to cement this longing as paramount to character, suggesting that protagonist Ocho’s central emptiness lies less in his lack of what he considers a normal life with a partner he now spends his present looking back upon, but more in the void of commitment and the lack of completeness he experiences as a result of overgrown longing and overstimulated memory.
While each section seems to move in rapid succession without ever really digging too deep into who these characters truly are, that may just be the point. The world here feels overly temporary and overly forgettable and, despite each section of its travels through time and space, it never quite seeks to fulfill its audience in a way a film similar to it might. And, yet, it works. It works because it understands love in the same way these characters do. It’s ephemeral and perpetual and unsatisfying and beautiful, if even for only a moment.