Tuesday, August 30, 2011


TERCERO B (Apartment 3B)
Directed by José Mari Goenaga, Spain, 2002, 19 minutes
(Please note that the embedded film does not contain English subtitles.)

With frenetic graffiti slicing across the screen accompanied by the eerie, staccato screech of dissonant strings, José Mari Goenaga's Tercero B announces its Hitchcockian intentions right from the opening credits. The camera pans right across the graffitti'd wall to reveal a placid beach, where a middle-aged woman, Irene (played brilliantly by Blanca Portillo, perhaps most famous for Almodóvar's Volver and Broken Embraces), undresses to bathe in the winter sea. Some nearby young men, certainly looking unsavory, make her think twice about leaving her clothes and her purse -- and, seeing a man with a nicer sweater and a leather jacket reading a newspaper, she asks him to watch her things. He says yes. She comes back from her swim to -- naturally -- find both the man and her purse gone.

To describe the film any further would be to give away all the deliciously entertaining atmosphere that Goenaga gleefully -- and very quickly -- builds. Like the wall hiding the beach, nothing in this film is what it seems -- Irene, for example, lives with a monster of a mother, who treats her daughter like a doormat and refuses to lend her any money . The first half of the film sets up a tight narrative, then backs up at the two-thirds point to revisit the same narrative from another perspective. Despite the relatively short length, however, Goenaga develops Irene's sad-sack character just enough to make us care for her: she is not very pretty, yet she dresses up when there might be a chance (however sudden, however strange) for love, for getting away from her mother. Hitchcock sets up Marion in Psycho just to make us care when she gets the knife; Goenaga takes the same conceit in a different direction, with a tenser result.

The film is structured uniquely as well, getting us far into the action of the narrative before flashing the action back to the beginning to follow a different character. Indeed, we figure out that the characters have enlaced (trapped?) themselves in the titular apartment long before they do -- although we don't really know howmuch until it is far too late. Goenaga wisely does not show us everything at once, and the fun thrill of this film comes from suddenly learning a piece of information that we did not have before, information that alters everything we have thought about these characters up until that point. (Indeed, that happens several times within the very short duration of the film.)

The last shot is particularly thrilling: the camera sits around waist-level facing the kitchen, but still in the hallway looking in. When our characters each enter (and it is very difficult to type this without giving everything away), the spring-loaded door swings back, the pendulum motion slowly obscuring more and more of the long shot of the characters after they enter. Each time I watch this film, the sick part of my brain wants to hold the door open to watch the primeval forces battling behind it -- and yet, by leaving the spectator behind the doorway, Goenaga teases us into wanting more. Indeed, an ending like this actually denies us a proper response -- and opens up the opportunities for interpretation. Instead of opting for the quick and thrilling conclusion,  Tercero B forces us to reconsider our relationship what and how we view even the shortest of stories.

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