Savina Petkova on Carlos Marques-Marcet’s 10,000 Km (2015)
How long is the distance between two lovers’ bodies? Non-existent, as the opening of Carlos Marques-Marcet‘s 10,000 km testifies. You can also easily guess how long is the distance between two lovers’ minds. Dimensions of proximity and separation expand and compress in the intimately set film of two characters. Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) are on the verge of starting a family in their cozy Barcelona flat, when an unmissable possibility arises for the young woman’s photography career: a year-long relocation in Los Angeles.
The opening sequence of the film runs for over 20 minutes in a single take, beginning with a static, lengthy sex scene of two conjoint bodies, which burst through the edges of the frame with passion. In the post-coital gestures, laughs, and silences, the film has already affirmed its authentic intimate presence. In its observational mode, the camera remains an ethically impartial spectator, rather than an intruder in the couple’s home. By keeping a steady distance, without any zooms, the overarching cinematography guidelines are keeping a flat surface, as flat as a computer screen, as a principle of emotional enhancement. While the couple shares striking authenticity in the free-flow of dialogue and freedom of gestures, when they’re sharing the same filmic space. Yet in moments of solitude, the camera captures either Alex or Sergi’s most private emotions – a drop of the smile, or a hidden look of annoyance, their expressiveness can come across as theatrical juxtaposed to their otherwise steady couple dynamics.
In a way, in 10 000 km we see a relationship as if we keep our eyes open during a kiss: the comfort of sharing a gaze, but also the decomposition of magic. The film follows the couple in their one year of long distance, jumping from vignettes of different length, showing either Alex or Sergi at their homes, or a video conversation/chat between them. Intimately confined to two homes, the filmic space condenses the title’s kilometres to an immaterial remnant of the couple’s physical closeness. 10,000 km is indeed a desktop film, since its frames are often occupied by the content of the characters’ browsers, their email box, photo gallery, or just Skype. As Alex shows Sergi the area she lives in, she uses Google Street View to acquaint him with the surroundings – the lake, the famous boulevards, or that gas station, where Stephen Shore took his famous photograph. As a prosthetic hand to take when walking, as prosthetic as the feet he would advance with, Internet’s database of images and maps is the simulacrum of closeness to a doomed relationship. Having an argument over the cooking recipe via Skype reaches a poignant peak when a lover’s teared up face is frozen in bad connection. Testing the dimensions of intimacy is what we all do daily in our communication, yet the film is ruthless in its reluctance to look away.
As elliptical as the narrative may be, the most seismic parts of it are told by the shortest, mute vignettes, in which we see either Alex or Sergi alone. A minute-long sequence shows Alex waking up to a sunlit morning and closing her laptop with an impatient gesture. Sergi wakes up slowly and dizzily disposes evidence of a shameful drunken night. Simple hints, like struggling alone to get the duvet fit in its cover, take root in a nostalgia for the lost togetherness. The film alternates between narrative scarcity and emotional abundance in a perfectly congruent and touching relationship-world.
The couple gasps for relationship air in inventive ways to share meals overseas, prepare dinner together, even slow-dance with their computer screens, but the shouting presence of the PC disrupts their virtual sex attempts. The dissolution of their physical intimacy can be traced back to miscommunications and stubbornness, but the film does nothing to invite us to investigate whose guilt it was. The material is raw and hard to chew on, yet the observational camera and desktop sequences are intimately distant to the couple’s troubles. As a close companion, the camera almost blends in with the surroundings, allowing the characters their personal space, yet it is the marker of their separateness – the border that both links and limits them. In its meditation on the possibility co-communication, 10 000 Km is a dialogue with a new representation. Reinventing the traditional shot-counter-shot grammar with shot-desktop shot compositions, the film sharpens our emotional sensibility, when the physical (eventually) gives out.
Available November 5, 2019
Savina Petkova is a regular contributor at Electric Ghost Magazine. She also contributes to MUBI Notebook, Photogénie, and Girls on Tops.