The Third One
"El Tercero" -- or "The Third One" -- is a rigorously controlled picture about the loose structure of hookup culture. This Argentinian film opens up with the impossibly cute Fede, a 20-something boy living with his father, flirting with his own computer webcam. Soon enough he's web-chatting with a couple of happily-married men; soon after that, he's at their place for dinner, dessert and a threesome.
Thanks to that minimalist plot, people are already comparing the film to Andrew Haigh's "Weekend," which also tracked a gay relationship from its start through the end of the first encounter. Yet director Rodrigo Guerrero turns "Tercero" into something far more unique than that picture. "Weekend" was about a fostering connection between two people, but "Tercero" is laser-focused on one thing: The process by which we fuck.
Guerrero's approach is to ignore everything that doesn't relate to the process by which these three men get into bed. He films his scenes in long takes, allowing conversations to drag out -- there's probably less than 10 cuts across the first 40 minutes of this 70-minute film -- giving the film an admirably digressive feeling. In truth, though, it's anything but: There's not a scene here that doesn't move this three-way relationship forward.
First, we see Fede flirting with his webcam. Then, him flirting in a chatroom with the two married men. Then, he shows up at their place. Then, he feels them out in a hallway conversation, testing them. Then, we see him share dinner with the two, inquiring about their backgrounds -- and so on and so on. The movie dramatizes seduction in all its forms; it's about how everything that precedes a sex session -- asking about family, getting comfortable, eating, eyeing each other down -- is as essential to the act as the sex itself.
All of these scenes take place in individual takes, with no cutaways or excitable energy to artificially spice things up. The first 15 minutes of "Tercero" takes place entirely within internet browsers, window-boxed within the film's frame. Those browsers are looking at chatrooms, where Fede and his gentlemen callers quiz each other about everything from family backgrounds to cock sizes. By letting his scenes play out in real-time, without edits, and in settings as familiar as Internet Explorer, Guerrero captures something undeniably human. He captures the way that sex and sexual attraction is a matter of preferences and specifics: Are you into this, how many inches are you, can I look at your butt, are you into three-ways... Again: the film is all about process, and quite meticulously so.
Unfortunately Guerrero's script -- or at least, its conclusion -- is hardly as daring as his intently-focused direction. He ends up sentimentalizing Fede, and sexual growth, and the positive energy brought on by the encounter he's depicting -- in its final scenes, "Tercero" shifts from being a movie about process and just becomes another movie about a person finding happiness through sex. It's not that the theme is disagreeable; it's just that it's not nearly as provocative as what precedes it. The first hour of "Tercero" is content to watch coldly as three men slowly seduce each other, with lust and tenderness and impatience intermingling complexly as they do so. That's a lot more intriguing -- and a lot more human, despite the steadfastly cold approach -- than watching yet another coming-of-age-by-way-of-sexual-experience narrative.