The opening shot of 10,000 km fixates on a half-naked young woman, Alex (Natalie Tena), crouched atop her fully naked boyfriend, Sergi (David Verdaguer). She rocks back and forth, her bronzed triceps glistening by his cheeks, her position giving her control of their momentum as he writhes about, defenseless, underneath her, lost in orgasmic abandon. His attempts to soften her step on the gas pedal are feeble and short lived, and she soon slides off unsatisfied but unbothered while he sees stars. The sweat gives way to pillow talk, and Sergi showers her in kisses and jokes and cuddles.
“It’s impossible to look into both eyes at once,” Alex says to Sergi, looking down at him as he strains his gaze upward. “You have to look at one or the other.” If eyes are the windows to the soul, and if looking through both is impossible, then 10,000 km explores the ways in which different “window panes” affect our vantage points, our interpretations of one another’s deepest, truest selves.
Director Carlos Marques-Marcet announces his ambitious debut by putting on a clinic of an opening take, introducing the film’s only two characters singing the body electric and establishing the intimacy of both their spatial relationship and shared routine. For about 23 minutes, the camera follows Alex and Sergi through a typical morning in their Barcelona apartment, moving with them from room to room in an uninterrupted series of loose shots, soundtracked only by their voices, running faucets, sliding chair legs and bites of breakfast toast.
Alex, a British photographer, and Sergi, a Spanish native and substitute teacher who has recently coaxed Alex (semi-successfully) into preparing for parenthood, have spent seven happy years together and are on track for 70 more—until that morning, when Alex discovers an email saying she’s been offered a year-long photography residency in Los Angeles. After a brief celebration, reality rears its head: She and Sergi begin a passive aggressive tango, a performative pissing contest masked as martyrdom over who’s more prepared to put their dreams on hold. Obviously, Alex is going.
Save for its arresting final scene, Tena and Verdaguer won’t share the screen for the rest of 10,000 km, which relies on various multimedia platforms—webcams; phone, desktop and laptop screens; Google Maps and virtual cityscape tours—to catalog their year apart. Pixelated faces and audio hiccups care of Skype glitches and shoddy Wi-Fi signals sharply contrast with the unmitigated continuity of the opening scene, which establishes an environment where the two people’s connective bonds are constantly renewed by their kinetic energy and their need for homeostasis.
But tech issues are only a minor contributor to communication breakdown. Despite Alex and Sergi’s attempts to reconnect those bonds—clutching their laptops and swaying to “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing” in the soft light of living rooms worlds apart, enjoying a romantic dinner by satellite—their constant censoring, filtering and manipulation of what they share and how they share it reflects only a jumbled patchwork of reality. Sergi pores over Alex’s texts and Facebook statuses like he would the New York Times Saturday crossword, clicking through her photos and building castles of jealousy with each unfamiliar face, typing and rewording and deleting the caustic emails of a breaking heart. Title cards tracking the number of days spent apart bookend sequence after sequence, with scenes sliced and diced erratically carries the audience to the next marker, be it three days or three weeks later, emulating the discordance born from over-editing.
Tena (Game of Thrones; some Harry Potter films) and Verdaguer’s raw chemistry and natural partnership that once permeated their apartment travels through the tubes and into the cloud—Marques-Marcet seems to be a director who knows precisely the emotional message he wants from his actors, and his leisurely approach allows them to tease that dynamic out organically. Verdaguer’s comedic affectations complement Tena’s subdued and more preoccupied demeanor, though the waves of emotion that do crash over her surge through her computer monitor and straight into the camera lens.
Marques-Marcet finds irony in how substituting a digital connection for a physical one may weaken the very bonds that substitution was meant to sustain. He pays close attention to the media of manipulation—how, unknowingly or not, our perception of other people and of ourselves is inescapably at the mercy of the vehicle of perception, as is the case in any film—but he also questions the role of shifting cultural landscapes as we adapt to life in the wild, wild web.
Yet, all this is more fodder for a thinkpiece than it is a compelling story. As far as creating accessible, substantial characters worth investing in, Marques-Marcet aims a little low. Even considering the very real operational constraints of crafting a film centered on an e-lationship, the director still doesn’t spend enough time cultivating the one between his characters and his audience. His dedication to staying neutral keeps the focus of 10,000 km away from his characters’ individual narratives, presenting them less as relatable human people and more as subjects of a social science experiment. Which leaves room for interpretation as to the real reason behind the couple’s decline, but also keeps us from truly caring that the decline is even happening at all.
Above all, what makes the film so disarming is the way Marques-Marcet confronts this decline with almost giddy fascination in their philosophical and artistic quandaries, but fully embraces his apprehension and vulnerability from a strictly sociological standpoint. Though Sergi has long been ready for a family, his dreams of domesticity and boring old child-rearing take a backseat if they jeopardize Alex’s chance at what she tells him is the “last train” to her dream job. The thought of a man pressuring a woman to pass up a career opportunity because he wants her home and pregnant is laughably archaic. Did high-speed access to everyone and everything on the planet contribute to the generational value shift from family and stability to self and mobility? Marques-Marcet doesn’t know, nor does he advocate one over the other. But he does worry about what we’re willing to give up when we try to have it all.
Director: Carlos Marques-Marcet
Writers: Carlos Marques-Marcet, Clara Roquet
Starring: Natalie Tena, David Verdaguer
Released: July 10, 2015