By Zhuo-Ning Su.
Spanish writer/director Carlos Marques-Marcet’s 10.000 Km is the kind of movie that’s powered by so much honesty and insight that, despite the built-in developmental restrictions from its limited thematic focus, casts a universal spell and hits you on the most visceral level. Photographer Alex (Natalia Tena) wins an unexpected grant for a one-year residency in Los Angeles and moves out from the apartment in Barcelona she shares with long-time boyfriend Sergi (David Verdaguer). It’s a joint, if not altogether voluntary decision for a couple already making children plans. But then again, 10,000 kilometers don’t mean what they used to back in the pre-internet era, or so the knee-jerk reasoning goes. We thus find the two protagonists stranded in prolonged separation, trying to keep their romance, now stretched across two continents, alive.
The premise is simple, quotidian in that it depicts something which happens every hour of every day in an age of globalized professional and private networks. The strength of the script, however, lies exactly in the fact that, with an eye for detail and a voice of absolute authenticity, it allows you to see the fundamental, timeless humanness at the core of this most sympathizable of dilemmas. The sense of recognition and empathy inspired by the sight of the tentative, slightly ashamed search through a partner’s new Facebook contacts or those unbearable seconds pregnant with meaning and suspicion before an instant message gets replied, injects an immediacy into the struggles portrayed on screen that makes you picture, with a feeling of transcendent connection, tiny heartbreaks just like this taking place out there in the real world, in real time. And while the last two-thirds of the movie can’t entirely escape the formal repetitiveness and material looseness of an episodic narrative structure, the scenarios themselves are conceived with such a consistent lack of affectation that they are never less than beguiling to watch.
The terrific writing is further elevated by the wonderful performances from the two leads. Tena dazzles with the complete physical ease she brings to her embodiment of the vivacious, driven, passionately feminine Alex. Moving with unselfconscious agility while emoting freely, she sells someone perfectly comfortable in her own skin who suddenly finds herself torn between cool-headed career considerations and hot-blooded needs for companionship. During several extended, wordless close-ups of her face throughout the film, including a particularly memorable one at the end of an unsatisfactory cyber sex experiment, she nails the gradual but unmistakable transition of her character’s inner state, letting the ebb of delirious excitement or the growing discomfort at a dawning reality beautifully play out across her expressive features. Even more impressive is probably Verdaguer as the doting, tortured, hopelessly insecure Sergi. With adoration, desire and proprietorship always cooking just beneath a bravely nonchalant surface, he gives the idea of the modern male- tolerant, supportive, domestic- all its unspoken fragility back and charms the burning heartbeat of the film to life. His delivery of a question near the end of the movie, with a caught voice, tear-streaked cheeks and a look so painfully, defiantly enamored, is likely to be as devastating as anything we’ll have seen all year.
Technically, the movie liberally uses webcams, Google Street Views and other means of communication to circumvent its budgetary limitations while remaining visually convincing and relatable. There’s nothing modest, however, about the 20-min plus, uncut opening sequence, which not only proves the merits of the aforementioned writing and acting but also showcases the technical prowess behind the camera. Beginning with an impassioned, realistically scripted and orchestrated sex scene that leads to a lengthy post-coital talk and the subsequent discovery of the surprise E-mail, followed by an argument and its settlement at the breakfast table, it’s an unbroken take that’s a small epic in and of itself. Both actors display great range within this continuous shot, taking us on an emotional roller-coaster ride of ecstasy, shock, rage and reconciliation without ever breaking stride. The camera is confident in its pace and fluidity, rounding corners and following the atmospheric changes in the room with expert command. Elsewhere, the spatial and optical parameters of the scene are all imperceptibly but precisely negotiated to give it a richness that compensates the edit-free challenge. Considering the discipline and directorial instincts required of realizing such a feat, any doubts of the promise Marques-Marcet shows as a filmmaker should be silenced even before the title card formally drops.
Comparisons of this film to the similarly-themed Sundance winner Like Crazy (2011) are inevitable, but the more appropriate reference might be Weekend (2011) or Her (2013). Although both dealing with long-distance relationships, 10.000 Km is characterized by an acutely adult sensibility absent in the Anton Yelchin/Felicity Jones-starrer. Instead, bracketed between two sex scenes that contrast distinctly in tone, sentiment and context, it reminds more closely of the evolutive nature of love described in Andrew Haigh’s melancholic indie gem. And in its examination of vicarious intimacy facilitated by technology, it calls to mind aspects of Spike Jonze’s futuristic tale. Ultimately, what makes all three of these comparable, if vastly different pictures work, is their understanding of the insurmountable, primal longing for closeness of our race. And with words and direction that overflow with genuine tenderness, an impeccably cast on-screen couple shooting sparks of chemistry left and right, as well as scenes of wrenching intensity or penetrating revelation, 10.000 Km has earned its place as a worthy addition to this line of vital modern romances.
Zhuo-Ning Su is a PhD candidate in law at the Free University of Berlin. His writing on film has appeared in The Berlin Film Journal and EXBERLINER.