Interview: Director Carlos Marques-Marcet on 10.000Km

 "I think we have to think of cinema as the 'art' of audiovisual communication..."

While watching 10.000Km, the debut feature from the Spanish director/editor Carlos Marques-Marcet, I didn't want it to end. On the surface it is a vivid portrait of a long distance relationship but the subtext of this relationship is a deep, complex look at the current state of art, communication, beauty, emotion, surveillance- basically all of humanity- and it somehow managed to also be completely entertaining (!). I wanted the film to keep showing me its world. Because of this, I immediately tracked down the director to, selfishly, keep the film going! After reading over the non-native English speaker's answers to the questions, that I fittingly sent him via e-mail, I noticed that he used a lot of imagery from other directors (Rossellini, Ozu, Fellini) to characterize his own feelings and reflections on his world. 10.000Km is truly continuing a tradition of not exactly narrative storytelling but of a form of cinematic Freudian anthropology that the directors he mentions also deal in, filtering their worlds through a collective lens almost like a form of emotional documentary or metaphysical self portraiture, giving way to nuanced interpretations from the director, the audience, and even the real world that all are referencing...and isn't that what art is anyway? The purest form of personal expression.

Q. It isn’t often I see a film and actually consider the beauty of the acting. These two actors, Natalia Tena as Alex and David Verdaguer as Sergi, were able to carry the entire film with such elegance. How were you able to get these performances? I noticed the actors had writing credits, how much of a hand did they have in creating their characters? Or was it improvised? It all felt too controlled to be improvised? Really stunning!

A: Thanks, I really owe a lot to Natalia and David they totally invested themselves in the project. I guess at the end that’s what directing is all about, just creating the conditions so the actors can jump into the void without fear because they trust you. I wish I could say I had invented some kind of technique, but I didn’t, I just made my own version of what’s been done.

We rehearsed for ten days and half of those days we spent letting the actors figure out by themselves who these people are and an understanding of their relationship. I sometimes find very ridiculous when people write “backstories” of the characters and give them to the actors, it makes me think of 8 ½, the actress who follows Mastroianni to tell her “the clue” of her character. But it was essential for this movie to create the reality of a couple that had been together for seven years, we needed to be very specific.

On one side we worked a lot about their physicality. I think the sense of touch accumulates memories that are very specific and unique for each couple. We danced a lot and I came up with different exercises so they could investigate their physical relationship. We worked from the outside to try to find the inside. We also improvised keys scenes that allowed us to understand how they ended up in the situation that they are in: when and why did they decide to have a kid? When and how did they move together? How did they become a couple? etc. Then we also rehearsed some key scenes of the script, we would read it out loud and see what was working, what we didn’t need and what was missing. We would rewrite on the spot and we would improvise moments as a way to discover what was happening in the scenes. Even if I wrote the scene myself, as a director I like to approach the material without preconceived notions, I try to discover what the scenes are about with the actors. We would record these improvisations and at night we would listen to the recordings with my co-writer, Clara Roquet, and introduced the lines of dialogue that we liked.

Lots of the best humor in the movie comes actually from Nat and David during the rehearsal, that’s why I gave them credit. A few of them come from improvisations we would do on set when we saw that something wasn’t working, although we most of the time followed the script pretty close. Actually the few things that were improvised on set are the ones that look the least improvised, moments I would have never dared to write because they would sound too written, like the moment when he makes up a little rhyme on the kitchen scene.

We also shot lots of takes, very few shots, but we repeated them a lot until something unexpected happened. I always need to get surprised about what I’m shooting.

Q: The opening shot of 10.000Km is a long, heavy one, the most “real” action of the whole film, the most time the two characters are together. It has little to no cuts and establishes the audience in a position of voyeurism that was analogous to the couple’s long distance internet relationship. In the beginning of the film I felt like I was peering in on these strangers but as it progressed I felt more engulfed in their digital exchanges, visually and emotionally. How do you think the relationship between film & audience is changing because of the digital revolution? We have become so accustomed now to staring at screens, do we feel closer to the characters? Or is it a false/dangerous closeness, more like what the relationship in 10.000Km becomes?

A: I don’t think just by the fact of spending lots of time in front of screen we get closer to characters in movies. I feel our relationship with screens has changed in the sense that now they are totally an integrated part of our everyday life. I feel that ideas that had been conceptualized by film theorist could nowadays totally be applied to the way we live, like the off-screen space or the mise-en-scene. More than changing our relationship between film and audience, screens have changed our relationship with space and time, the here-and-now seems to mean something different now. The opposition is not so much fake/true, or even real/virtual (what we think by the word “reality” is also a symbolic construction), but the pair here/there.

Q: I read this really great article awhile ago about the way the internet is physically manifest in films, the difficultly of trying to make concrete this invisible thing so the film is not just a person typing at a computer. How did you develop the strong visual character of the internet in your film? For example, the video-chat glitches…did you make glitches? Or were they real? Your depiction of internet communication was so thoughtful and I was wondering how it came to be.

A: It was one of the biggest concerns, but also one of the most exciting challenges. My feeling is that internet is more a concept than a “thing” and as we all know, cameras capture things, not concepts. You can film screens, you can film websites, you can film interactions, you can film the technology that makes the internet possible, but you can’t film the internet. For me internet is all about “what-is-not-there.” As I said before, it is all about technology allowing us to be “there” and not “here.” 

In 2011 we did an art project with photographer Aleix Plademunt and writer Borja Bagunyà to explore through photographs, texts and videos the relationship between distance and technology. We spent that summer doing a little research and driving around California taking pictures. The idea wasn’t so much to give “expert” research on this relationship, but more a “user” reflection on how this mediation of distance affects us. The project was a network of mini-projects that were interconnected between them as a hypertext. Those mini-projects are the basis for the work that the character of Alex does during her residency in Los Angeles, but it was also my point of departure to solve this impossible question of “how to film the internet.” You can’t film the internet, the only thing you can do is try to capture the constant “off-screen” space that the internet creates, and somehow try to make the off-screen space even more powerful than what’s on the screen. Part of it was just filming it the closest to our everyday experience, just recording a screen, but then reproducing it artificially too. So there are many glitches that were natural and some others that we created. But we didn’t want to create “meaningful” glitches, the point of the glitches were that they are random, and if you want you can give them meaning “a posteriori.”

Q: This question is giving me trouble…I want to ask about where you see cinema in the digital-human communication spectrum. Is art, and film especially, a better form of relaying a story since the emotions & identification it can evoke is often more guttural than words, especially in a world of global communication? Or is visual art a one-way conversation up for interpretation making it even less reliable? Is there any solid form of conveying meaning or is it all fleeting?

A: The myth of “perfect clean communication” is just that, a myth. And I am really happy that it is. I think that’s what makes humans so wonderful, that we always say more than what we intend to say, that language always is somehow alive without us. A “solid form of conveying meaning” seems to me a contradiction in itself, since meaning itself doesn’t have a solid form, meaning always relies on what has on each side, it is a position, always moving, meaning is always sliding. Films are not made by symbols, but it relies on symbols to be comprehended. It is true that somehow it is a little bit more “direct” than written language, more close to our everyday experience, but first of all we have to remember that our everyday experience is also symbolic.

I don’t know, I’m not an expert, but I feel that sometimes literature can bring you much closer to an experience through symbols than cinema, limited by its two-dimensional screen (3D movies also relay in a 2D screen) and its lack of smell and touch put limitations that written words can jump. But I think we have to think of cinema as the “art” of audiovisual communication, the same way that literature is the “art” of the written language. And by “art” I don’t mean the “elevated” practice, but the practice that doesn’t have other meaning than itself. Yes, art can be used for many things, but at its core I feel it always needs to be “useless,” in order to bring us to an aesthetic experience of the world it needs to push the boundaries of meaning and communication, to literally reshape our world with no purpose than being what it is. I hope that doesn’t sound too intellectual, I didn’t intend it to be, I just feel that, for example, in order to experience “time” in a way that makes your stomach small, the apple that Chishu Ryu eats at the end of Late Spring needs to be just that, an apple, not anything else.

Q: And with the above, your film is such an artifact of a style of digital communication that will probably become quickly obsolete, at least in its current form. Do you think that the way things look, and how we visually communicate, is going to become more unstable with increasing advancement?  It is like the statistic I just read 10%of all the photos ever taken were taken in the past 12 months,” prior to that we did not convey information through photos. In addition, people ages 18-24 sendabout 67 txts per day, if txts become obsolete will these kids have to relearn how to talk to one another? Is technology actually widening the communication chasm?

A:Yes, I thought a lot about how people will react if they see our movie in twenty years, if it’s going to feel so old as when we now see WarGames. But somehow I felt we were focusing on a fact that won’t change for a little while: the fact that we are establishing an interpersonal communication through cameras and screens. We tried to avoid the fetishism of technology, tried to focus instead on the change of paradigm in communication that screens and cameras bring. In my dreams, it will be like in the Anna Magnani episode ["The Human Voice," based on Cocteau's play] of [Roberto] Rossellini’s L’amore. The movie is just a telephone conversation, and yes, the telephone itself looks old, but the movie itself doesn’t feel at all old, on the contrary, it seems almost visionary, it captures the drama of trying desperately to communicate with somebody that that you need and is not there (in the literal and metaphorical way) with you.

If you think, there are not that many new technologies that propose a change of paradigm in communication, a real change. The telegraph and the phone were real changes in the same way that written language and printing were too. They added the possibility of communicating different places, to dissociate communication from the here, the same way that the invention of writing dissociated the communication from the now (I can say something and somebody later on can read it). I feel that texting and chatting for example are completely the same paradigm, and social media is basically the extension to everybody and instantly of what the invention of printing started, they are extensions of the existing paradigms. Registering sound and moving images was a change of paradigm, and its application to personal communication was only a step actually.

On the other side of things, there’s always a chasm in communication, I think communication actually needs the chasm in order to work. We have always been alone, I don’t think we are more alone now than we used to be, the only difference is that the internet helps us to forget it. The internet doesn’t create lonely people, just makes it easier to mask our loneliness and allows us not to confront it. 

10.000Km will be released in October 2014.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.