London Film Festival – 10,000 KM – Review ★★★

The most startling aspect of writer-director Carlos Marqués-Marcet’s 10,000 km is the opening 23 minute shot, worthy of an Tsai Ming-Liang film, although the comparisons stop there. It is perhaps an appropriate symbol for the film’s main conceit as we set about wondering how long the ‘long distance’ relationship between Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) can last- on screen as well as in the story world-  as Alex opts to take a year long residency in LA just as the couple are trying for a baby in Barcelona.

Set in both those cities, the film might be seen as a contemporary take on how a couple’s relationship can become dysfunctional through the external pressures of the modern world, it’s also a comment on Spain’s economic, social and class mobility- the contrast between happy-go-lucky English Alex and her sense of adventure and the more staid and conservative Sergi, afraid to give up his stable teaching career for the unknown in LA, seems quite close to actuality. It then becomes an essay on how relationships persevere (or not) when they suddenly become long distance.

The film has had generally good reviews, so this will be an exception. The problem is not the topic of the film- given the hugely globalised and increasingly nomadic lifestyle many from all sorts of different countries and backgrounds are forced to lead, the themes will be pertinent. The problem is that Alex and Sergi’s relationship is dysfunctional almost within the first few minutes of screen time- and although of course there is a certain amount of dysfunction in every relationship, here it is so underlined, so exposed, their relationship quite clearly built on the foundations of sex and not much else, that there does not seem room for the relationship to go anywhere except to break up point- and clearly they do not need to be that far apart for this, any small narrative event will do, although for the point of the director’s idea, it obviously helps.

Other reviews comment that Marqués-Marcet intelligently omits to describe the externals of the lives of either Alex or Sergi, leaving it up to the audience’s imagination. This does two things I think are detrimental to the film. It allows the director to tell the story he wants to tell and stay focused, it also, very subtly, allies the audience very slightly with Sergi’s POV- we learn little of his life, but we see in pictures the great time Alex is having in LA.  But this narrative approach inhibits its character’s possibilities and serves the idea the director wishes to convey. If other protagonists were involved then this would either support the initial idea that the two are dysfunctional because they cannot be without each other and be with others and so changing the conceit of the narrative, or, these other characters and the story events they would bring with them, would develop both Alex and Sergi and take them into different territories, so that naturally we would have a very different film. Either one would be more interesting than the one we are given.

The film does make good use of technology and anyone in a long distance relationship will recognise the little foibles and frustrations it brings- from failed cyber sex to power struggles. But in the end, as sex and mostly just sex is all that Alex and Sergi’s relationship is based on, there seems little that can be developed. It might be that this is a timeless universal story of doomed(sexual, not romantic) love which we see many times and is original only because it uses the technology of our time and this makes it distinctive- but the lack of personality of either character and the lack of a bond that does not have sex at its core, makes 10,000 km seem like a long arduous journey. There are some nice close-ups and excellent acting but this does not make up for the emptiness in the film.

10,000 km first screens on 9th October, book tickets here

verity is a writer, filmmaker & workshop leader with an avid interest in all the arts, but particularly film & theatre. She writes about theatre for theatrebubble and short stories for Unintentional Hermits.