“The Third One” may seem slight, but this very sexy Argentine film about a ménage a trois that develops between Fede (Emiliano Dionisi), a college student, and a couple Franco (Nicolás Armengol) and Hernán (Carlos Echevarría) has deeper meanings. The film unfolds simply, and in three acts, with a coda. Franco flirts online with Fede; the couple invites Fede over for a meal; the men have sex. Then there is a morning after.
Writer/director Rodrigo Guerrero deftly explores the connections between these three men in each act—over the Internet, over dinner, and in bed—showing how intimacy develops and how each character lets down his guard over time. Guerrero compartmentalizes his film never giving the audience any information other than what is presented on screen. Have Franco and Hernán had other threesomes? Is Fede a virgin? “The Third One” is open to interpretation. This, along with Guerrero’s very formalized style and a trio of strong performances is what makes this film so engaging.
/bent spoke to Guerrero via email (and with the translation help of Beatriz Urraca, my “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina” co-editor) about “The Third One”:
How did you conceive of this situation and these particular characters—a couple that has been together for 8 years having a threesome with a 22 year-old student?
I wanted to make a film that would bring up something concrete and create a discussion around the possibilities of human sexuality. A film that would not pass positive or negative judgment on the situation it presents, but rather develop that possibility. This story centered on how a third person lives through the discovery of a new sexual and loving situation with a more experienced couple occurred to me based on experiences that were partly personal.
Your film is addressing gay men who search for love through sex. Can you discuss this idea of finding a deeper intimacy?
I believe that consensual sex is an act where we expose our intimacy, and independently of whether we know the other person[s], there is always a human encounter. Obviously, each experience is different because circumstances and people vary. In this case, the couple formed by Hernán and Franco choose to add a third person to enjoy themselves together, sharing the pleasure with another person, thus renewing their excitement as they see the person they love enjoying himself with someone else. I think that for them to be able to share their intimacy as a couple is, first of all, a positive alternative to reaffirm the love they feel for each other and to destroy the phantom of infidelity. In Fede’s case, he may be channeling his loneliness through his sexual exploration, but in my opinion there are also curiosities that are natural for a boy his age. What is revealing for this character is that what begins as a fantasy turns into the discovery of a new chance to love within a polyamorous bond.
Your film has a very deliberate, almost formal style. Can you discuss how you approached the story visually?
From the start, I decided that the situation would develop for the viewer in the least conditioned way possible. I did not want the characters to question what they were doing, nor did I want the filmic devices to condition the audience’s reading. I thought about how I could achieve the sensation of being there, living alongside the character(s) through the development of a revealing night. For that reason I chose the sequence shot and shooting as radical devices of the film’s form. Structurally, I was interested in a clear differentiation between the two ways of establishing relationships: the virtual one, where we see Fede in an uninhibited erotic dance, determined to have sex, and the real one, where we find Fede in front of another person, shy and introverted, showing his fragility. The decision to film the sex scene vertically and in real time is an attempt to help perceive the novelty that Fede is experiencing and to bring us, as viewers, closer to the exquisite sensation that, for me, is what sex provides as a sensory state that alters ‘normalcy’.
You really eschew the use of music in the film, especially in the sex scene, which I like. Can you discuss why you didn’t want to “tell” the audience how to feel?
I didn’t want to condition the viewer’s assessment. We did know what the scene meant for the characters, but to play music or emphasize gestures or actions with extreme close-ups could condition the gaze and threaten the idea that each person should live their own experience in front of the characters’ sexual intimacy. I think that the result is largely erotic and attractive for that reason, because it happens as if we were spying on the situation, not through the window, but as if we were lying on the bed itself.
Can you explain why you tease the audience with Fede’s sexual exhibition in the chatroom scenes, but then incorporate inserts of hardcore (pornographic) sex?
I preferred not to expose the characters’ nudity precisely to differentiate them from the pornographic images. Those confirm the space of fantasy and depersonalization by reducing everything to genitals. I think that in gay chats we tend to turn our own bodies and those of others into sexual objects. In order to show the loving side of the bond created among the characters, I decided to emphasize facial gestures, caresses, and kisses.
How did you “choreograph” the lengthy, loving sex scene?
The bedroom scene was scripted to the minutest detail, including what the camera would not show but that defines the dynamics of the bodies. When I wrote it, I first imagined it viewed from above, and on the day of shooting we discovered the vertical side shot. Before filming we defined the choreography of movements with the actors and rehearsed it two or three times with clothes on. Then, as the gestures the actors were improvising developed naturally, we filmed in real time, twice. In this scene, and in the film in general, we worked this way: first we would define the situation, the themes of the conversations and the dramatic itinerary of each character; then we let the actors flow in the scene so that they would bring great veracity to their acting. Working with Carlos, Nicolás, and Emiliano demanded total surrender to the film’s approach. I think there was a special chemistry among them and the film is the result of mutual, honest trust among them and between them and me as director.
One of the most moving scenes for me was Fede and Hernán on the balcony, sharing a cigarette. Hernán talks about his neighbor, who lives an ordinary life and does the same thing every day. Hernán is queer, and having a ménage a trois; he’s far from ordinary, but other than the threesome, he is ordinary. He is a regular guy, with a job and a partner, having dinner with wine…. Can you explain your thoughts on this?
Your question is interesting because I think the characters in the film are regular people that let themselves break the routine and the conventional order of things because they are open to the possibility of a polyamorous bond. I always wanted the characters to be ordinary people, I didn’t want to make them strange because I wanted the viewers to empathize with them and not distance themselves from them because they see them as strange, obscure, or perverted. In other words, I think it is essential that the audience, independently of their sexual orientation, identify with the characters to the point of thinking that it could be them having that encounter. I think that if that works, the film shows an inquisitiveness and a very interesting debate with oneself about the possibilities of human sexuality.
Do you think “The Third One” will be seen as a fantasy? Or is this something that happened [to you] and you are sharing the film as a way of celebrating this experience?
Clearly the film celebrates the experience as something positive and enlightening for Fede’s character. Many films have shown experiences of this type with characters in altered or contradictory states. I wanted to show that this situation can happen naturally and be charming. I hope the film stimulates the audience to consider new possibilities where social prejudices with regard to different ways of relating to one another intimately are broken.
“The Third One” screens at Frameline this weekend.