End of the Century review – short, sweet and sharp reflection on brief romance

Lucio Castro's debut feature might prove too low-key for some, but it marks out an exciting new voice in European cinema

Given that the end of any year, let alone decade, is a time for almost obligatory self-reflection, it’s fitting that a film set in both 2019 and 1999 should be so concerned with the examination of lives and roads both taken and ignored. Lucio Castro’s End of the Century makes its home in these quiet looks back at choices and romances, always questioning what might have been. It makes for a tricksy, dreamy love story, as two men’s chance meeting in Barcelona digs into their memories and identities after they realise they spent a similar night together 20 years prior.

These men are Ocho (Juan Barberini), an Argentinian poet on a brief holiday, and Javi (Ramon Pujol), a Berlin-based children’s TV director in Barcelona for work. The spark between the pair is immediate and obvious, but what at first appears to be a fun, casual hookup instead becomes something earth-shaking, especially for Ocho, who starts to remember his first encounter with Javi and even falls into a dream in which the pair have been married for decades.

This plot works more intuitively in practice than on paper, but does rather end up going around in circles. For a film that clocks in at less than 85 minutes, End of the Century spends a lot of time not doing much. It can also be a little confusing in its flashbacks, not attempting to de-age its lead actors at all, but once you get used to this, the flashes in and out of the different realities that Ocho imagines keep things fresh and intriguing. This is Lucio Castro’s first film, and that is often evident in the limited locations and incredibly small scale of the action (though it technically takes place in two separate decades, we only see a handful of days in these characters’ lives). That’s not to say it lacks formal ambition.

The shifts into the dream life happen fluidly, feeling both natural and slightly disorienting, while the opening ten minutes unfold wordlessly. Long, meaningful conversations are held in single, static takes, showing off the easy naturalism of the performances, whilst Castro’s script cleverly shows how people’s priorities and outlooks shift as their experiences grow. He sees how Ocho and Javi have changed, even in their abandonment of once firmly held ideals, but never judges them for it. Outside of the dialogue, a lot of the story is told through moments of quiet stillness, and while some of these are affecting, others are somewhat patience-testing (one scene in particular is so lacking in movement that I genuinely thought it was a technical glitch).

That said, with such a short running time, End of the Century never has the chance to bore you, and any problems I had with the film are outweighed by the easy-going intelligence of the writing and performances. With its stylistic ambitions, it also marks out Lucio Castro as an exciting new talent in European cinema. I’d be fascinated to see what he can do on a larger canvas than the one he’s afforded here.

Where to watch online

More Reviews...

The County review – bleak class struggle in the Icelandic hinterlands

This Nordic drama can be drab and dour, but it raises interesting questions, anchored by a compelling lead performance

Take Me Somewhere Nice review – strange and stylised trip through Bosnia

Ena Sendijarević's impressive debut follows a teenager on a transformative trip through Bosnia in a bid to meet her dying father

The Lovebirds review – shouty murder-mystery settles for generic

Despite the efforts of its leads, Michael Showater's follow-up to The Big Sick falls victim to a slapdash story and familiar beats

Cassandro, The Exotico! review – entertaining portrait of a lucha libre wrestler

Marie Losier's brief documentary deals with some heavy topics but works best as a good-natured look at a unique athlete

Features

Best Films to Stream This Week in the UK

From an epic documentary on female filmmakers to a quirky road trip through Bosnia, here are our picks for what to watch online...

10 of the best… road movies of the 2010s

In cinema, the open road is packed with endless possibilities and diversions: here we highlight our top picks from the last ten years...

Killing Time: Youth and Restlessness in the Films of Eliza Hittman

With the arrival of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, we explore the filmmaker's uniquely woozy and melancholy teen portraits

Stream Holidays: Eight Great Films About Trips to Greece

From the infectious hedonism of Zorba the Greek to the liberating frolics of Shirley Valentine, here's our guide for the armchair traveller