If you took the first half hour of End of the Century (Fin de siglo), the assured feature debut of director Lucio Castro, at face value, you’d probably expect a slow burning, dialogue driven account of love at first sight, in the same vein as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise or Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. It hits all the beats you’d expect from a lowkey indie romance, as well as acting as a travelogue for its distinct setting in the same way Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy also acts partly as an excuse for its characters to walk around glamorous European locations.
And then, after a hookup in a city the two lead characters are both briefly visiting, they discover a past connection that dramatically alters their perspectives of each other. An unassuming gay cousin to the Before Sunrise trilogy suddenly transforms into something more unusual; part deconstruction of relationship dynamics in the same vein as Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and part look at how the central couple’s previous meeting could have drastically altered the course of their lives, like Sliding Doors but stripped of the cheese. Castro’s film is making its UK debut in the “love” section of the BFI London Film Festival, but this is less a romance and more an examination of the power that brief emotional connections could harness if given the time to develop. It’s not the simple “love at first sight” film that it initially appears to be – and is all the more intriguing because of it.
We open in Barcelona, as Ocho (Juan Barberini) arrives to spend a few days on a break from a work conference in Madrid. He’s visiting outside of tourist season, with the clouds comparatively overcast, and the beaches sparse – but he still manages to catch the eye of Javi (Ramon Pujol) on the beach. Javi leaves before Ocho can say hi, and frantically scrolling through Grindr, he can’t seem to find him either. And then, as fate would have it, he passes Ocho’s flat and agrees to come up; they hook up, before agreeing to spend more time together while they’re both in the city.
Ocho is just getting over the end of a 20 year relationship that broke up just a few weeks prior to his Barcelona trip, while Javi is in an open marriage, seemingly content with his life as a father and husband, but happy to hook up if an offer arises. You get the sense of two people meeting and getting to know each other for the first time – until Javi points out that the two met 20 years earlier, and that their previous hook up had major ramifications for the pair. We flash back to the nineties, and suddenly, everything previously disclosed about their romantic histories is primed to be contextualised in a new light.
An archetypal indie romance is transformed into something more akin to science fiction in the blink of an eye, as it slowly becomes clear that this previous meeting opened up a world of possibilities – ones that, much like Certified Copy, it doesn’t try to disprove came true. What we’re witnessing could equally be an elaborate role playing scenario (long term partners aiming to recapture their initial spark from 20 years ago), or the intimate tale of two people reconnecting that it is if taken at face value.
And it’s pretty irresistible regardless of how you choose to interpret it; Lucio Castro’s screenplay underplays the way the premise slowly opens up a multiverse of romantic possibilities, ingeniously planting the seeds for a more epic tale of connection echoing through the ages. Repeat viewings won’t further clarify the truth of the relationship between Ocho and Javi, but End of the Century (Fin de siglo) would be significantly less rewarding if the possibilities of their previous meeting were ever clarified.
One of the year’s most surprisingly inventive and emotionally enveloping directorial debuts, End of the Century (Fin de siglo) is so much more than your typical indie romance.