10.000 Km’s conflicted nature emerges in its very first scene, a trendy long take that captures 20 oh-so-innocuous minutes in the life of young Barcelona hipster couple Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer). After a brief wake-up fuck pointedly followed by talk of future children, Alex just so happens to check her email before breakfast, which reveals she’s been invited to take part in an all-expenses paid photography residency in Los Angeles she somehow forgot to tell Sergi about. A discussion lasting all of five minutes ensues before it’s decided that she’ll go, and the scene closes with a suitably bittersweet song. While the sheer speed with which all these duly salient details are parceled out has little in common with real life, director Carlos Marques-Marcet seems to think presenting them in a single shot flecked with quotidian routine will conjure up enough casual verisimilitude to distract from the obviousness of the construction, resulting in the same ungainly struggle between conventionality and hip realist posturing which the film as a whole remains incapable of reconciling.
With all the necessary narrative groundwork having been unsubtly laid, the film then settles into the rhythm of what has now become a long-distance relationship, unfolding in a series of brief, chronological episodes cataloguing the couple’s interactions, each bookended by an intertitle noting how much time has passed since they were together. Here, too, the focus is on the day to day and the unspectacular, with nearly every interaction necessarily Internet-mediated: Alex showing Sergi her L.A. apartment via Skype and the neighborhood via Street View, the two of them saying goodnight into laptops propped up against their pillows, dinner dates scheduled to approximate normality. Yet while this episodic, deliberately restricted setup corresponds perfectly to the piecemeal nature of a modern relationship spent apart, it soon becomes clear that choosing this conceit isn’t the same as being able to properly wield it.
Having decided on this promising concept, Marques-Marcet treats it with the same clumsiness already apparent in the first scene, neither exploiting the realist potential it contains, nor properly utilizing it for narrative means. The episodes that make up 10.000 Km are at once too everyday and not everyday enough, lacking both the sort of carefully drip-fed details needed to sustain interest or produce tension as well as the sort of pleasingly naturalistic feel that might carry them despite this. One typical example here is a scene where Alex playfully sorts out her underwear in front of Sergi on Skype, their slightly labored antics revealing precisely nothing about who they are, how they feel, and where their relationship is currently at, functioning more like a bland, arbitrary snapshot that desperately wants to feel lived in. Occasionally, however, the middle course Marques-Marcet steers between naturalism and narrative contrivance does throw up some unlikely moments of grace, most poignantly in a scene showing one of Alex and Sergi’s tentative attempts at sex via webcam. The moment where Alex realizes she’s not into it is obviously constructed, yet also feels painfully real, one fleeting point that finally nails the otherwise elusive overlap between the universal and the specific.
Aside from the barrage of information on their characters provided by the opening scene, neither Sergi nor Alex ever becomes fleshed out in any meaningful way, partly due to the film’s restricted focus and partly due to Tena and Verdaguer’s merely competent performances. While being placed in such an austere setup is always going be ruthlessly exposing, neither actor rises to the occasion, with both unable to muster up the precision of movement, expression, and tonality that might offer a pleasure in itself. As the months pass and the Sergi and Alex’s relationship comes under increasing strain, the sense of anguish and heartache that emerges feels more born of the inevitability of long-distance relationships than of the film’s own take on them. It’s in these scenes that the characters’ lack of shading becomes most grating, with a Skype-conducted dance set to a familiar tune in particular feeling entirely dishonest in its attempt to mine emotion that hasn’t been properly established. If 10.000 Km ends up feeling like an unsatisfying cautionary tale on how much detachment is too much detachment, it’s probably because the unassuming is so easy to underestimate: Artlessness truly is an art in itself.