Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tactile: Carlos Marques-Marcet's 10,000 km

In the opening moments of Carlos Marques-Marcet's remarkable film 10,000 km, Sergi (David Verdaguer) and Alexandra (Natalia Tena) are first seen making passionate love. As the camera fixes on their bodies, which are thrusting and swaying in motion to the erotic rhythms they both invent and discover, we can see how delicately intertwined their sexual and emotional lives are. They seem inseparable. But as inseparable as they might be, it's not a symbiotic partnership. Sergi and Alexandra still retain their individual selves as if sex for them wasn't about losing yourself in your partner, but about connecting at the most intimate and tactile place where you find out some great mystery about yourself. While Sergi is a music teacher in Barcelona who is seeking more secure work and Alexandra is a photographer trying to further her career, they both live together and desire a child. Before she can get pregnant, however, she gets an e-mail from Los Angeles offering her a one-year residency. Although Sergi is initially resistant to letting her go, he values her independence as much as he does his own and he relents. But the distance between them, which makes up the title of the picture, puts their relationship to the test. The ability to hold their connection close initially seems tangible because of Skype, Facebook and e-mail, but Marques-Marcet has fashioned a thoughtful and honestly probing examination of modern romance in the digital age. And it's a corker.

One of the key paradoxes of social media today is that although we have more access to information and people, it only creates a perception of increased intimacy. There are people today who have no problem (or show no conscience) about breaking up a relationship in a text and doing it from a safe distance. They've learned how to be cocooned and protected by the technology that they are supposedly using to reach out to people. It's as if human beings were now becoming inseparable from the impersonal data that's being exchanged. 10,000 km traces the distance of that lost intimacy by fashioning an intelligent and stirring two-hander that not only depicts how lovers can grow apart over time, but Marques-Marcet also employs the means of technology they use to seek each other out. Social media becomes part of the visual strategy of the story. Sometimes the screen turns into what they see through their Skype camera, or on their Facebook page, or their scanning of an e-mail inbox. By contrast, the opening lovemaking sequence and its aftermath happens in one single shot that depicts their coital and post-coital moments in real time, but once Alexandra gets to Los Angeles and they turn to their computers, the images move quickly in various shades of light and shadow so that we experience what they see and also what they don't get to see. Marques-Marcet never lets the film become too conceptualized to the point where we lose touch with the emotional anchor of the story.

David Verdaguer in 10,000 km.

David Verdaguer, who shows some of the brooding hangdog sensuality of Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, with subtle sureness lets us see how Sergi's self-doubts increase as he witnesses the liberation that Alexandra feels being in a foreign country. Although he tries to fill the emotional spaces in their Barcelona home that she left behind, in one scene, he violently starts destroying those things she left behind that remind him of her. Natalia Tena, who most know as Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter films, and perhaps more recently as Osha in Game of Thrones, has a vibrant sensuality as Alexandra. She responds kinetically to her new surroundings unlike Sergi who needs the stability of roots. As her new apartment slowly fills with items that inadvertently estrange her further from Sergi, she is both terrified of what she stands to lose with him being so far away and thrilled by what she is gaining from these new experiences abroad. No moment expresses that better than the scene where they try to have sex over Skype. While he can fill his imagination with thoughts of her being with him in Barcelona that allow him to orgasm, she starts to lose interest when she realizes that her sexual desire is so intrinsically linked to the human contact with Sergi that she now doesn't have. Her gesture of closing her laptop as he climaxes is the equivalent of turning and facing the wall in bed after unsatisfactory sex.

Natalia Tena in 10,000 km.

10,000 km may catch you up in familiar territory – the travails of the long distance romance – but it has you experiencing that theme in an entirely new and refreshing way. The picture can also call up the illuminating meditation on romance that Richard Linklater unveiled in his trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) where the excitement of discovery was shared by its director, its stars and the audience. There's a refreshing honesty at work in 10,000 km where sides aren't taken and points aren't being made. What we experience instead is the fragile territory that being a soulmate maps, where promises can't be kept despite the efforts of both partners. And if 10,000 km celebrates the depths of desire that true love can bring, it doesn't back away either from the heartache that those depths can sometimes foster. In speaking of those depths, there might not be a better love scene in recent movies as heartbreakingly beautiful as when Sergi and Alexandra take up their laptops in their distant lands, as if to invoke a shared physicality, and they dance around their separate rooms to the strains of the Magnetic Fields' "Nothing Matters When We're Dancing." Like the great song they've chosen, there's not a false note to be found anywhere in the picture. (10,000 km is playing in selected cities as well as streaming as Video On Demand.)

– Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of ZappaRandy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask ReplicaArtificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.  

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