I wouldn’t have dared to look at my watch during the arresting opening scene of “10,000KM,” but the longer it goes on uninterrupted by edits, the deeper you become invested in the relationship of Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer), a pair of lovers who share an apartment in Barcelona. Caught mid-coitus, there’s an obvious physical connection between the two where nothing is left to the audience’s imagination, but although emotionally they also appear at first to be on equal footing, casually ruminating on how many children they’ll have and what they’ll look like, it’s only a matter of time before the ground begins to quake beneath.
At least 20 minutes pass before director Carlos Marques-Marcet leaves their apartment and at a time when long takes have been taken to their extreme to corral the wonders of the universe in a film such as “Gravity,” the one at the start of “10,000 KM” impresses with how it burrows into the cocoon the lovers have ensconced themselves in in vivid detail, making it heartbreaking when it proves susceptible to the pinprick of a single e-mail. You can see Alex tremble while checking her inbox, barely breathing as she learns she received a scholarship to live in Los Angeles for a year to pursue her photography. When she tells Sergi, he doesn’t hesitate in his response, enthusing, “It’s fucking great, right?” Yet as the camera follows her into another room without saying a word, one can guess what happens next.
That’s why “10,000 KM”‘s biggest shortcoming is not one of its own making, but rather the fact that its arrival comes after so many other films have cropped up since Facetime and Skype have been repurposed for cinematic endeavors. A literally cheap device that felt fresh when Joe Swanberg mined it for early features “LOL” and “Nights and Weekends” during the mid aughts, it has grown as wearisome as an actual long-distance relationship over time. But Marques-Marcet shows enough skill and perception to make it compelling again, establishing early with the fine camera work of Dagmar Weaver-Madsen that the scope of the film won’t be confined to computer screens and it won’t ever let itself get bogged down in the endless series of dialogue-heavy confessionals that have dominated such stories.
Instead, “10,000KM” is considerate of the world that is threatening to pull them apart when Alex flies to Los Angeles – the poor economic conditions in Spain that prevent Sergi from traveling with her and the mega-servers in bland buildings Alex likes to photograph because she believes that’s where the story of their relationship is stored in ones and zeroes. When Alex initiates a sunny conversation from her perch on Sunset Boulevard, she gets Sergi at the end of a long day in a lonely flat, their conversations dwindling from boisterous lessons in how to prepare chicken with onions and Sergi’s encouragement of Alex to “explore, wander” and report back to Alex ultimately lamenting late in the film, “We used to talk about millions of things,” now finding herself reduced to speaking only about the state of their relationship.
Marques-Marcet and co-writer Clara Roquet give great depth of both characters, a genuinely likable couple with their own passions and interests and Tena and Verdaguer throw themselves fearlessly into the roles. The film is constantly thrusting them into conversations the characters clearly aren’t prepared to have and rather than burst into hysterics, both actors err on the side of restraint, beautifully conveying their frustration and the occasional pockets of joy when they hear from one another as much with what they say as what they don’t. “10,000KM” may make the case that even with the shortcut of technology, love still has trouble surviving long distances, but as cinema, it travels far.
“10,000KM” will be released next year by Broad Green Pictures. It screens twice at AFI Fest in Los Angeles on November 7th at 6:45 pm at the Chinese 3 and November 9th at 6:30 pm at the Chinese 2.