Review: 10,000 KM (Marques-Marcet, 2014) – MVFF 2014

Still from the movie 10,000 KM

I had the good fortune of catching two movies at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Saturday, October 11th. Mill Valley is a quaint, sleepy sort of town, but the festival itself (with additional venues in surrounding North Bay cities such as San Rafael, Larkspur, and Corte Madera) is quite robust, showcasing over a hundred short and feature-length films, including ones I recognized from Sundance earlier this year. The two films I watched–10,000 KM and Soleils–couldn’t have been more different in tone and scope, and yet both presented something unique and refreshing (Soleils more so).

10,000 KM is a Spanish-language film that provides an intimate peek into the long-distance relationship of a couple, Sergi (David Verdageur, a Spanish TV actor) and Alex (British actress Natalia Tena, most known for her role as Osha in Game of Thrones, though some may recognize her from Harry Potter as well). Substitute teacher Sergi is stuck in Barcelona while his long-term girlfriend Alex explores Los Angeles through an all-expenses-paid photography residency they both know she can’t refuse. Anyone who has themselves been in a long-distance relationship will recognize their experience in this film, seeped in the verisimilitudinous trivia of trying to stay intimate across a dozen time zones and thousands of kilometers of geographic space. Emotionally, we can identify with the initial confidence and excitement of exploring a new place, the subsequent loneliness, the misunderstandings, the missed virtual rendezvous, the development of separate lives, the feelings of neglect or guilt, the fights that linger from phone call to phone call, the eventual estrangement, the tenuous rapprochements that can’t be sealed by touch. Technically, too, we remember those Skype calls thwarted by a bad or slow connection, emails rewritten half a dozen times that nevertheless receive no response, the deafening silence of distance.

The scenes in which Sergi and Alex are together also ring with an undeniable authenticity and, if anything, are even more poignant than the scenes of their separation. Here we witness the electric exchange of loaded looks and tacit tensions. The camera lingers on their every movement because that movement is so rich with the content and history of these two people.

Watching the film, I was almost immediately reminded of another movie about a similar long-distance relationship: Like Crazy, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the festival’s Grand Jury Prize. Both feature a couple spanning the Atlantic whose idyllic relationships struggle through all the aforementioned obstacles, but I judge 10,000 KM to be distinctly superior to the mediocre Like Crazy. Where Like Crazy is romantically indulgent, 10,000 KM is ruthlessly real. When there is not much else to carry a movie besides the relationship it seeks to examine, one becomes grateful for a strict adhesion to reality.

And yet, that faithfulness is hardly enough. A story is told for a reason. Whether to educate, illuminate, illustrate, explore, or question, the best films and books activate something within us. It is here where 10,000 KM doesn’t quite stand up. In the movie, life, relationships, people are dazzlingly credible. But I get no sense of why the movie was made, no answer to the question, “So what?” If one has lived through a long-distance relationship and survived it one way or another, one knows what it is like already. We don’t need a movie to show us that. So what else is here? Why have we been told this story? What do we “get out of it,” so to speak? I don’t know. I suspect writer-director Carlos Marques-Marcet (in his first feature-length film) may not know either. Regardless, it is a testament to the other aspects of the film that I still enjoyed it, would even (I think) recommend it.

Note: Trailer is in Spanish with no subtitles