Language of Distance

As fiction goes, Carlos Marques-Marcet's 10,000 km, a somberly paced relationship drama with a grim message about the brutality of distance, is a tough sell. It's ultra-serious, confined almost entirely indoors and, with its Facebook pages and Google Maps walk-throughs, inextricably tied to the way we live right now. It's also well-crafted and strikingly intimate, describing the reverberations within a relationship when one partner, Alex (Natalia Tena), lands a photography fellowship that requires her to move from Barcelona to Los Angeles, leaving the other, Sergi (David Verdaguer), behind. Unlike other small-budget films that have tried to tackle the subject (Like Crazy or Love, Rosie), it paints long-distance relationships not as an obstacle to everlasting romance, but as something deadening and often deceptive.

Tena and Verdaguer, the only two actors onscreen, are excellent. Tena brings a girlish vulnerability (recall her memorable debut role as a punkish high-school student in About a Boy) to the driven, self-possessed Alex that makes her ambition feel relatable. It also helps that Marques-Marcet, a jack-of-all-trades who co-edited Eliza Hittman's moody It Felt Like Love, makes poetic use of the limited visual vocabulary his conceit demands. As the couple's days apart plod on, Marques-Marcet mixes crisp in-person shots with dreary footage of pixelated computer screens, sometimes switching abruptly between the two. The couple's first video chat connects Sergi, slumped in gloomy lamplight, to Alex in a sun-filled apartment newly stocked with stark white IKEA furniture. These constant reminders of geological distance make for a chilly film, but one that's honest about solitary life, as we see Alex and Sergi enacting minor cruelties toward each other: Sergi impulsively breaks Alex's things, while Alex obsessively edits photos during one of their chats.

Marques-Marcet's vision is dystopian without requiring any great stretch of the imagination—if there's a villain in the story, it's technology, with its hiccuping facsimiles of reality-on-delay. In one scene, Sergi is frozen momentarily onscreen, his face stretched into a pained grimace. It's eerie, a crass imitation of happiness that also jarringly points out how much of their relationship has now been fabricated via an imperfect connection—but what is any relationship if not a story we tell ourselves, in a language we share?

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