Do you ever lay in bed at night and think about everything you did and everything you said that day, and wish you could change some of those things? Of course you do. All humans want to reshape and reinvent their past. It’s a flaw – or perhaps a strength – hard-wired into our very nature to restructure memories and make the present more palatable. It explains why nostalgia is such a powerful drug.
Written and directed by the Alenda Brothers (César and José) and adapted from their own short film, Not the End takes this concept one step further, and has a man literally travel back in time to recapture something from his youth. This moving and achingly romantic drama receives its UK premiere at EIFF this week as part of the Focus on Spain strand.
The film begins with the rhythmic ticking of a clock. In the pulsing lights of a makeshift lab, a time machine whirs into action, and a man appears in the centre of the machine. This is Javier (Javier Rey), and he has come from the future to intervene in his own life. When we catch up with present day Javier, he is obsessed with work and oblivious to María (María Léon) the love of his life. She is in pain, suffering from crippling depression, and self-harming.
When present Javier goes to work, future Javier visits María and convinces her to come on a trip with him. He wants to recreate their magical first date, when they travelled by bus and car from Madrid to Cadiz. Something has happened in the future, and Javier hopes that by taking this trip it will rekindle the fire that he and María once had, and stop that event from occurring. The film flashes back to their first date, and then cuts between the two timelines as we go on this journey with them. It’s a bit like Before Sunrise, but with the bonus feature of time travel.
I absolutely adored this movie. From concept to execution, what the Alenda Brothers have achieved here is incredibly impressive. A classic road movie, with a romantic sci-fi twist, Not the End is a truly original piece of filmmaking. Bolstered by two fabulous central performances, the film is driven by the contrasting personalities of Javier and María. Not just the contrast between them as individuals, but also the evolution of their personalities over time. In the past he is a shy and awkward science student, and she is a wild and extrovert force of nature. In the present their roles have reversed, with María now withdrawn from the world, and Javier trying to bring her back.
Like a lot of Spanish cinema, the film occasionally threatens to become a bit melodramatic, but I have no problem with that. This is a passionate and evocative film, and the directors do a wonderful job managing the tone across the intersecting timelines, and bring it all to a conclusion that will surprise and move you in equal measure. By the time the lights go up, there is a strong chance Not the End will have smashed your heart into a million pieces.