Imagine wandering through a city that you don’t quite know, chancing upon someone that tickles your fancy innately. They take to you, you take to them. You both dive into bed, well aware that you’re only after instant gratification and yet, unable to shake off the feeling, beyond just a strong connection, that they are tied to your being in ways that you haven’t comprehended yet.
Now imagine finding yourself in a home you built with them, a child, a promise, even a welcome lull. You’re feeling, not figuratively, but as an actual lapse, that you’re unsure how you skipped time between the first encounter and this idyllic life – a choice nonetheless. You still feel the love, but some part of you forgot to leave a trail of crumbs to follow the journey you took. Curiously – and almost magically, as if through a time machine — you do not recall some parts of yourself. How did we get here?
New York-based, Argentinian director Lucio Castro’s debut feature Fin De Siglo (End of the Century) is bundled in this fuzzy melancholy, tracing the inherent sadness of all love stories, queer or straight. Working up to and from a casual encounter through Grinder, the film explores a realm ambiguously wedged between the nature of memory and uncharted possibilities of an enduring relationship. Of all the industry lists that it made the cut for as one of the top films of the year, the most notable in this regard is the one in Vanity Fair, citing his work among the best streaming LGBT+ films that aren’t about coming out.
On the impact and discourse of tragic narratives for movies with LGBT protagonists, Lucio observes, “Until a few years ago, a gay story was acceptable only if it ended sadly. It was the only way the heterosexual world could accept our stories, because in a way it reinforced that their version of life was better. But I feel like it’s happening less now. I do feel though, that every love story does have a sense of tragedy. There are stories that end with couples married happily ever after until dying. It’s amazing, beautiful, great – but some love stories carry something both alive and dead at the same time, both present and gone, and it’s powerful because it connects with the notion of first love – from Shakespeare to Steve McQueen.”
In the expanse of modern Barcelona, Ocho (Juan Barberini) walks the streets with the roving gaze of a tourist, and yet, his strident, solo tour also suggests a self-su?ciency of sorts. It isn’t until he settles into a well-kept but somewhat cold AIR BnB, checks the crop on Grinder and looks out his balcony, that we sense a desire – one which may have been born of a freeing impulse – or perhaps on the other hand, a consequence of being free too long. Soon enough, his hours are filled with sex and hearty conversation with Javi (Ramon Pujol), a man he may or may not have a life with.
End of the Century unapologetically jolts us away from one timeline and drops us into another: one in which Ocho and Javi are partnered and have a child to raise. They still make love, their eyes still lock like we’ve witnessed before. Still, Ocho appears lost, but not with vacant eyes, in love, but yearning perhaps, for another time in the past – or a moment yet to come. You may get the sense that you’re witnessing two men caught in a loop of choice, and its consequences. It isn’t the weight of time that grounds them, that keeps them ticking – but an unshakeable sense of familiarity. Even in moments that are seemingly disparate, it is in Ocho’s confused, yet endearing gaze at his lover, Javi, that we see a continuum of emotion brandished by mutual bonding. But it is as if Lucio wants us to share Ocho’s happy confusion as the only one in the couple feeling the lapse between meeting someone and living a committed life with them.
Fin De Siglo ponders the idea of duality in us: looking to be alone while defining our own terms of endearment in a world wherein a steady relationship is perhaps perceived by some as a prized commodity, thanks to dating apps and safe distance rejections. “I live in that duality, it’s very clear.”, Lucio observes of himself. “You know, I fall in love with people, I love connecting. I love my friends and I love my family, I love my boyfriend. But I also love spending the day by myself – walking around the city, reading in a cafe, writing, travelling. So I think the film has those two things. The character has just broken up a very long term relationship. His walking around the city is just a natural counterbalance to his being in that relationship for so long. When you’re alone, a city becomes the first character. You pay more attention to buildings, to other people. You look at other people, you hear them talk, you’re more aware of your surroundings. While when you’re with somebody else, you are more into the words, the back and forth – less focused on what happens around you.
Lucio insists that by no means is a film a glorification of either single or partnered existence. Either way he believes, is a state of simply being.
The two facets of this screen relationship, via Lucio’s casual yet masterful narrative device, succeed in manipulating audience expectation. More significantly, Lucio achieves what even few auteurs have within the modern filmmaking paradigm – playing deceptively with cinematic time. Without relying on production design and period detail to distinguish timelines, he chooses a subliminal variance in the demeanour and motive of his characters. They’re still the Ocho and Javi we’ve come to know, but maybe less aware of what they desire, and a tad more risky. This leads to plain, but tantalising questions: Is this what really happened, or what could have happened? If it did, how does a lifetime with someone get decimated from memory? What lends the proceedings their visceral intensity is observation and the simplicity of inference, as opposed to reliance on complex structure to create meaning. He confesses: “Honestly, the three scripts that I’ve written for feature films – they’ve all been in the same way. I try not to follow a plan. I just follow this character who goes around the city, finds someone, they have sex, they talk. And at that point I thought, “Maybe they’ve met before!” So the film, even though now has that structure that feels, you know…unusual, it came to me in a very linear way. I never thought of making anything intentionally complicated, it was just the way that I was looking at it.” Castro has understandably cited Michelangelo Antonioni and Eric Rohmer as his filmmaking influences, given that they were both masters of projecting emotional states onto material settings.
The sense of ending in Castro’s moody feature (which is by no means a closure) has been perceived by many as suspension, more than statement. But it was perhaps the specificity of the story and the contained reality of the characters that made it easy to put resources together and get this languid, small but cinematically expansive project shot with relative ease. “It was very easy to find funding because it was done with little money and a very small team: basically just me. I was the director, a sound team, a camera team, the actors and a producer. It was just available lights, and I only shot in twelve days. It was such a small project you could almost do it without funding, you could do it by yourself. Also Barcelona is very cheap, so the meals were very cheap, the camera rental was insanely cheap.”, Lucio recalls, as a matter of fact… and a hint of surprise.
The one sequence from the film elevated in its emotional quotient, is Ocho and Javi referencing Kubrick, downing White Russians in the latter’s ostensibly 90s apartment, while dancing to the beat of Space Age Love Song by the beloved 80s band, A Flock of Seagulls, on vinyl. Curiously, the rights to this song were the most expensive item in the entire production budget, perhaps explaining the way in which this sequence tethers all the strands of the narrative. “Of course, it has a certain sense of melancholy and that innocence, almost very simple lyrics with a very heavy-hearted tone or melody, and it’s a good combination for that moment in their lives — that first kiss (first gay kiss I guess)”, Lucio reveals.
Lucio likes the idea of cinema as a tool for temporarily altering reality. “Even though it’s fiction, it has the power for people to believe in those stories: that higher power of identification, how it can almost become like a truth, and playing with that, I love. I think they’re really interesting: the sense of performance, the sense of representation, the idea of time, all the artificial elements like music and camera and lighting. We watch things and we identify ourselves in those situations, but in a way they become real to us.“
His path to a well-regarded career in cinematic storytelling has been divergent, but steady. Lucio studied film in Argentina, worked in a production company for documentaries before arriving in New York, where he worked in fashion for a while. “Film was, of course, always my main thing. I watch shorts, I watch many movies a day. In some cases at least one a day… or upto five.” he admits with the sheepishness of a minor addict. “I’m a crazy cinephile. But my work in fashion helped finance this movie, so I am grateful to fashion, too.”
Lucio plans to jump right in while the water is warm. His next project is set in the world of punk music. Mia Maestro (who plays Sonia in Fin De Siglo) is already attached and the rest of the casting is underway.
Much like his lauded debut’s leading man, perhaps Lucio wants us to share a point of view as observers, as both single people and lovers. It is a subtle cinematic precedent for healthy self-esteem, for working through the modern identity problem that isn’t necessarily a crisis. It may be more of a nudge to be present and savour the miracles of love without our mind’s usual line of questioning, without the cynical consternation.