The Inside Out Film Festival is back in town from Thursday, October 24 to Sunday, October 27. Positioned as the closing film of the festival, the Argentinian feature End of the Century plays at 9pm on Sunday at the National Gallery of Canada—and, if I’ve learned anything from past years, I recommend you get tickets well in advance as it risks selling out.
The film opens with an extended focus on the main character, Ocho (played by a very convincing Juan Barberini) who visits present-day Barcelona. A meditation on the dynamic relationship between past, present, and future, silence and soundscapes, aloneness and intimate relationships, End of the Century’s first quarter of an hour delicately seduces viewers into the rhythmic beauty of being alone, as Ocho checks into his Airbnb and explores the city. The landscape and soundscape of Barcelona are foregrounded poetically, as the only constant in the alternating scenery, Ocho, happens to settle his gaze on a man walking below his balcony wearing a KISS t-shirt. He randomly encounters the stranger again while at the beach.
When he sees him once more from his balcony, he invites him in, and what follows is precisely what you’d expect: introductions (the man’s name is Javi, played by Ramón Pujol), flirtation, beer, and sex.
Yet End of the Century resists easy cliché. This isn’t another linear story of a gay sexual encounter on ecstasy or romance by the sea. Ocho, a poet and editor, and Javi, who produces a children’s show, are seemingly brought together by mystical forces. In a time of dating apps and easy, fast sex with strangers, Ocho and Javi’s brief, intense yet tender encounter demands deeper involvement with what they mean to and for one another. The movie not only suggests it with the repetition of their serendipitous encounters, but with a sudden flashback to 1999, when the two men met for the first time. The 20-year flashback is jarring, an effect perhaps meant to mirror the sense of surprise and dislocation when such unexpected revelations occur.
During the flashback, fear of AIDS and anxieties about the turn of the millennium are couched in moments of artistic beauty and exploration, as when Ocho’s long-time friend and Javi’s then-girlfriend Sonia (actress and singer Mía Maestro) practices for her opera performance. Her voice is stunning and moving, as is her central role in the two men’s lives. But the focus of the film is on the men and how their transient 1999 encounter affected one another: Javi discovers his same-sex desire with Ocho, who was at the time struggling with his sexuality.
Most unexpected and jarring, however, is the last part of the film, which is a second sudden jump through time, into a future that might have existed had the two men stayed together back in 1999. This movie embodies a quote we hear in Ocho’s found copy of David Wojnarowicz’s book Close to the Knives: “forever in the disconnected and unfamiliar.” Indeed, one is made to feel disconnected as the movie forces us to face unfamiliar narrative moves, from present to past, from past to present, and then back to a potential future that never occurred. It is poetic, meditative, jarring, and disorienting and, in my view, a must-see.
The Inside Out festival takes place October 24-27 with events around town. Check their website for a full event schedule.