Big Screen Berkeley: ‘End of the Century’ and ‘Britt-Marie Was Here’

End of the Century doesn’t really have a beginning or an end, but is worth seeing for one lengthy, “conversation over cheese and wine” scene alone

Fin de siglo (End of the Century, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 27) restlessly leaps across time, traveling from 2019 to 1999 and back again in a concise 84 minutes. It’s not so much a (Y2K) bug as an ‘Orlando’-like narrative feature, however — and while writer-director Lucio Castro’s film is, as a consequence, rather puzzling (its chronological transitions neither declared nor delineated), it’s also an intriguing examination of the endurance and strength of long-term relationships.

The winner of the Best First Feature award at this year’s Frameline festival, End of the Century stars Juan Barbarini and Ramon Pujol as Ocho and Javi, two middle-aged men who, after a one-night stand in Barcelona, realize they’d previously known each other 20 years ago. How they seem to have forgotten their earlier relationship — and how they’ve managed to avoid aging in the interim! — remain the film’s central enigmas.

Some of the mystery revolves around Javi’s neatly pressed KISS tee-shirt, not so much a signifier of his loyalty to the Knights In Satan’s Service as the thread (pun intended) connecting the friends across 20 years. And then there’s the occasional presence of Sonia (Mía Maestro), a melancholic opera singer who is Javi’s 1999 live-in girlfriend (in 2019, Javi has a husband and a daughter in Berlin).

Do not go into End of the Century anticipating a beginning and an end: this is a film that, despite taking place over the course of several decades, is entirely middle. It’s at its best during a long, relaxing cheese and wine conversation between Ocho and Javi that provides Castro’s screenplay an opportunity to stretch out and expound upon the nature of human relationships: even if the balance of the film befuddles you, this lengthy (though unsurprisingly fractured) segment is worth the price of admission.


‘Britt-Marie Was Here’

Britt-Marie Was Here: proof that foreign filmmakers make cookie-cutter movies too

It’s easy to accuse American films — especially those from the big studios — of cookie-cutter storytelling. We’re less used to seeing that dynamic at work in foreign films, which generally come with subtitles and an arthouse patina. Britt-Marie Was Here (also opening this Friday at the Shattuck) provides proof positive that foreign filmmakers make home-cooked formulaic movies for their native audiences, too.

Britt-Marie (Fanny and Alexander’s Pernilla August) is a 63-year-old Swedish housewife obsessively focused on cleaning, meal preparation and the care and feeding of husband Kent (Peter Haber). After she discovers hubby has been engaging in some extramarital shenanigans, she leaves him for a new job in Borg, a down-at-heel small town in need of a youth counselor and football coach.

The perpetually crabby Britt-Marie knows nothing about football or youngsters, but when confronted with the Swedish variant of the Bad News Bears her heart melts. With the help of an equally crabby retired pro player (Malin Levanon), our duck out of water gets her rag-tag team ready to play the big Cup Final against their main rivals, a team that hasn’t surrendered a single goal all season.

Every development in Britt-Marie Was Here will be greeted with sighs of despair from seasoned cineastes who will watch things transpire precisely as they anticipate. August is wonderful, but her performance simply isn’t enough to warrant a recommendation for this very routine comedy-drama.