Hauntingly beautiful take on technology and alienation
Our lives are ruled by technology. Particularly for the generation of young people who came of age in a world of webcams, instant messaging, and multiplayer online gaming, the lines between virtuality and reality have become blurred. Where does the computer screen leave off and flesh and blood begin? That's the question posed by first-time writer/director Delphine Kreuter in "57,000 Kilometers Between Us," which had its North American Premiere here at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Themes of loneliness, alienation, and connecting with others are classic subjects for film, and they are elegantly updated here in the context of life in a cyberworld.
14-year-old Nat lives in a home which doubles as a set for an online reality show starring her parents. She reluctantly tolerates this intrusion of strangers into her life while, at the same time, existing in her own computer-based world where her only companions are identified by the names with which they log on. The only boy she knows, Adrien, bonds with her electronically from his hospital bed. The adults in their lives are similarly disconnected and disaffected.
An ensemble cast of teenagers, transsexuals, exhibitionists, and fetishists all turn in frighteningly real performances. None are more affecting, though, than Marie Burgun and Hadrien Bouvier as Nat and Adrien, and it is their friendship which is at the heart of "57,000 Kilometers Between Us." Their "onscreen" relationship (literally) is spent in the world of webcams and online gaming. It's almost surreal to accept the notion that cyberspace might be a better place to live, yet the viewer may entertain that thought as family and personal secrets are revealed. But what would happen if these two young would-be lovers actually met face-to-face? The look, feel, and sound of "57,000 Kilometers Between Us" are perfectly appropriate for a film that's all about the conflict between participation and voyeurism, and succeeding confluence of same -- the use of mostly natural and single-point lighting, along with shaky hand-held camera almost exclusively, puts the viewer just inches away from the film's subjects. We also see the characters through the lenses of the webcams with which they view each other. The result gives the film a home video, cinema verite look. There is no soundtrack whatsoever with the exception of a heartbreaking Dolly Parton cover of the 1971 classic If by Bread.
"57,000 Kilometers Between Us" takes a bit of patience on the part of the viewer. Much like today's multitasking teen, there's a lot going on at first. I couldn't wait for the film to jump to the next reel. But the way in which the seemingly disconnected fragments of narrative come together at the film's conclusion is hauntingly beautiful. By the time the credits rolled, I didn't want it to end.
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