In 2014, all that separates us are LCD displays. A flick of the fingers and we can conjure our loved ones like a genie from a bottle. Pixelated features swim down undersea fibres and refract off orbiting satellites – if you’re online you’re never short of an friendly ear to bend. With these technological wonders you might think long distance relationships had been drained of their worst poison. In the age of Skype, can parting really be such sweet sorrow?
10,000 Km‘s lovers are Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer), a comfortably besotted couple living together in Barcelona. He’s a trainee teacher and she’s an artist, though currently supplementing her income by giving English lessons. What we see of their relationship is marked by carefree eroticism – they’re planning for a child and having a lot of fun in process.
Raining on this domestic parade is some unexpected news. Alex has been offered an all expenses paid year long residency in Los Angeles. She smiles and skips in happiness as she absorbs the information, then pauses. This is a double-edged sword: going to L.A. might be her last shot at artistic success, yet she’ll have to leave Sergi behind. Following an uneasy breakfast they mutually decide that this opportunity is too good for her to pass up.
What follows is a beautiful picture of long distance relationships in the digital age as the two struggle to keep the passion burning via videoconferencing. Their time apart is marked by title cards and as the days tick by we see them deal with their partner being reduced to a flickering image on a laptop. As the tagline asks: “Can love survive 10,000km?”
This structure of videoconference calls, gazing at Facebook pages, Google Street View explorations and tapped out emails makes 10,000 Km a 21st century epistolary. With a cast of just two, we hyperfocus on the relationship, forensically picking over every minor disagreement and terse word. Throughout the film we’re on the same page as Alex and Sergi: we laugh when they laugh, we cry when they cry (or at least I did).
Tena and Verdaguer make it real easy to get all slushy. In fact, the film kept the LFF audience in rapt, dewy-eyed attention for its entire run-time. This kind of intense emotional involvement doesn’t just happen by accident. Director Carlos Marques-Marcet displays an rigorous formal approach to structure that’s astonishing for a first time filmmaker.
You get your first taste of Marques-Marcet’s directorial chutzpah when he opens his debut feature film with a twenty minute scene shot in a single take. You’d be right to suspect that this is mere cinematic braggadoccio. But this long take isn’t just a hot young director showing off, for the vast majority of the film these characters will be separated from each other, a division made so much crueller by seeing them share the frame for so long.
This long take, which encompasses sex, pillow talk, showing, preparing breakfast, dressing and discussing the life-changing email, sets up the rest of the movie in one fell swoop. There’s a naturalistic motion to the camera as it follows the actors across their apartment, the length of the shot cementing their relationship as one of permanence and serenity. Later, this calm, unedited smoothness is contrasted against the reverse shots of their webcams as they converse with each other. Marques-Marcet’s production background is as an editor and he uses these skills to the fullest, increasing the shot frequency as the warmth gradually ebbs from the relationship.
Similar care is visible in the contrasts between high definition, professionally lit digital film stock and low resolution live streaming video. Perhaps uniquely in cinema varying video framerates take on thematic importance; while the other person may be technologically present, the nuances of their body language and facial expressions are lost in the microseconds between the images updating. Marques-Marcet even goes so far as to degrade the quality of the streaming video the more his characters bicker – a truly digital era pathetic fallacy.
It’s hardly rocket science to point out that a digital relationship is no substitute for the real thing. This is territory that Spike Jonze fruitfully explored in Her, yet here, shorn of science fiction marvels, we feel the divide much more keenly. Throughout the film, Marques-Marcet contrasts the ‘real’ with the ‘fake,’ showing us a photographic collection of antenna camouflaged as trees and rocks or a split-screen comparison between analogue film of a street and its digital Google Street View counterpart. As with the videoconferencing footage, the Street View jerkily skips between viewpoints – the contrast laying out precisely what’s been lost in online translation.
In its careful examination of the psychology of long distance relationships 10,000 Km will speak directly to many in the audience. If you’ve ever tried to keep the flame burning while geographically separated from your partner you’ll find this film a painfully accurate mirror of reality. That alone is enough to make it worthwhile cinema, yet Marques-Marcet goes further in intelligently exploring what we lose and gain in a digital world, and the wider implications technology has for relationships.
10,000 Km is a stunning debut that richly deserves every accolade it will receive. Marques-Marcet is a director to keep a very close eye on.