Venice 2021 review: Tres (Juanjo Giménez)

“Tres is another strong calling card for Giménez, an inventive story by a gifted storyteller that hooks you in the first time you realize something is off.”

Visuals driving a narrative and reflecting the mental state of a protagonist are nothing new in film. Sound generally plays a secondary role (with notable exceptions), but Juanjo Giménez’s inventive psychological drama Tres puts it center stage to great effect, while at the same time highlighting an aspect of film that is sometimes sorely overlooked: sound design. The result is a highly enjoyable fairy tale that will delight general audiences and film theorists alike.

Sound designer and mixer C. (Marta Nieto) has been under a lot of stress lately. A demanding job and a stranded relationship are taking a toll on her, which leads to a strange phenomenon: she starts to hear sound only after a short delay, something that obviously impairs her job. She goes on leave, but this only makes things worse. When she moves in with her mother for a while she re-discovers audio tapes of herself getting speech therapy. Her mother alludes to a connection to C.’s audio problem by mentioning ‘voices’, but is otherwise tight-lipped about it. A genetic test reveals that C.’s mom is not actually her natural mother. The delay in audio gradually increases, but C. figures out how to get around it and ultimately to control and use her newfound ‘superpower’. She reaches out to her boss Iván (Francisco Reyes), who stands by her when C.’s mother dies. A relationship between the two develops, and that turns out to be the beginning of a solution for C.’s strange problem. But to find the origins of the issue she has to delve deeper into the mysteries of her childhood.

Director Juanjo Giménez needs to walk a tightrope in Tres. The film needs a balance between embracing the mystery and handling the practical challenge of telling this story of a woman with delayed hearing. This practicality makes scenes with dialogue difficult, but the film gets around this by gradually building the issue and by letting C.’s state of mind influence it. Even so, Tres does require the viewer to not nitpick every scene lest the concept fall apart. But that is a general requirement for genre fare, which is essentially what the film is even if it uses its supernatural premise to examine the protagonist’s psyche. Giménez is much more interested in ‘what if’ scenarios than in telling an airtight story (which he wrote together with Pere Altimira), and for those willing to suspend their disbelief that makes Tres an excellent thought experiment as well as a captivating thriller-esque ghost story of sorts (even if, spoiler, there is no ghost).

Not surprising for a film that has one of the senses play a key part, Tres allows Giménez to stage a number of viscerally powerful scenes that put the sound design in the spotlight. Oriol Tarragó and Marc Bech’s sound work is exemplary here, although it must have been counter-intuitive to deliberately ‘incorrectly’ mix the sound. But their design carries several scenes to great heights, such as one where C. listens to classical music on headphones, then takes them off to enjoy the music in all freedom while watching the night skyline. And a scene where Iván has C. follow him by orchestrating a Hansel and Gretel-like trail of audio crumbs to lead her to a cinema is pure movie magic (and he is considerate enough to choose a silent film!).

Giménez’s strength is also in full display when he manages to heighten the tension with just a plastic egg timer, and the final shot that evokes Inception‘s infamous spinning top may leave the need for answers unfulfilled for some audiences, but only adds to the mystery and the ability to discuss Tres long after the credits roll. It’s a fabulously entertaining film, anchored by a great performance by Nieto (and a very charming one by Reyes), that shows that Giménez winning several high-profile awards (including the Palme d’Or in Cannes) and nabbing an Oscar nomination for his short Timecode was not a fluke. Tres is another strong calling card with commercial viability, an inventive story by a gifted storyteller that hooks you in the first time you realize something is off.