Long distance relationships have a tendency to expose and magnify existing problems in romantic relationships. Such is the case for the lovers at the centre of Carlos Marques-Marcet’s impressive, sensitive, and heartbreaking debut 10000 km. Bookended by two sex scenes, the film charts how a deeply in love and committed couple go from connected and planning a family to disconnected and mourning what’s lost. An artistic residency takes Alex (Natalia Tena) away from her partner of seven years, Sergi (David Verdaguer), to Los Angeles for a year. Minutes before she discovered she’d been awarded the opportunity, they’d been trying to make a baby, a plan that would now have to be postponed.
The opening scene, about twenty minutes long, is shot in a single uncut take, which takes us from coital bliss to daily routine, and a breakfast, where the news of the residency is discussed, that is uncomfortable even as the couple reaffirm their love for each other. Both Alex and Sergi are almost always in frame, even if one is preparing breakfast while the other is brushing his teeth in the washroom.
Potentially minor problems surface. Living in Barcelona to stay with Sergi has meant that the British Alex has had to sacrifice her career as a photographer; she’s been earning a living by teaching English, a position she never intended to be permanent. Sergi knows this but he’s complacent, a school-teacher with roots in the city. He still hasn’t learned English after seven years with Alex, effectively forcing the bilingual Alex to be forced to live somewhere that he can live. Most worrisome is how quickly Sergi switches from supportive and happy for Alex to passive aggressively attacking her for not mentioning she’d applied earlier, to the point that she’s ready to give up the opportunity. He wants to be in her corner, but he doesn’t quite know how.
Just as they’ve decided that they’re strong enough to survive a separation, we cut to Alex’s second day in Los Angeles. From here, all of their interactions occur by video chat, email, or text, and we only see them with each other, not living their separate lives. At first, they spend hours on video chat trying to stay connected, still able to bond over shared experiences and inside jokes. But the longer she’s there, the more problematic their exchanges become. She’s spending her time at home, talking to him, instead of taking advantage of being abroad. He feels more and more like he’s been left behind, his life put on hold while she finds her place in the world. He understands before she does that this can’t continue, that they need to keep living their lives. Before long, phone calls get missed, and they’re multi-tasking while talking. He resorts to stalking her Facebook page, unsure whether the giddy pictures she’s posted are more truthful than what she tells him or all part of a façade. When they fight, we even watch him compose an email to her, drafting and redrafting, changing tone and strategies.
Yet they’re committed to making it work, or at least they think they are. When they talk, there’s still that glimmer of an old connection, a flame neither is ready to see burn out. But Alex is changing and Sergi is sinking deeper and deeper into depression as things at work don’t go as planned, and he’s left to deal with it on his own. The blank, white walls of Alex’s L.A. apartment begin to fill with photographs. She’d resisted nesting even as he encouraged her to, both knowing that it would mean the end of something. Problems that they used to be able to solve with a kiss, a gesture, or a dance on the bed now only remind them of how much space there is between them. Without new memories and shared experiences, their relationship amounts to nostalgia, to something that once was.
Tena and Verdaguer give terrific performances, which gradually chart the changes in intimacy between Alex and Sergi. Most of the film finds them in separate rooms, connected only by a computer. With each conversation, we can spot the subtle differences between when they’re actually connected, trying desperately to connect, or pretending to care when they’ve lost the ability to fight for their relationship as much as they need to. Having access to video chat makes them feel obligated to use it, but it also erodes their desire to talk: conversations had always been spontaneous and silences permissible, but now they need to fill the air for a prescribed time period. It’s artificial even as lying in bed together on chat helps them pretend they’re not so far away.
Marques-Marcet’s script is precise and nuanced in how the relationship gradually weakens, leaving us uncertain as they are about whether what they’re clinging to is already gone or worth saving. The film ends on an ambiguous note, though you’ll probably leave with a firm opinion about what they should do. Will they be able to do what’s necessary? Do they even know what that is anymore?
10,000 km is now available for rent on VOD on iTunes, Amazon, and Xbox Video. The film is also screening in select theatres in the U.S.