10,000 Km opens with a couple in bed, deeply engrossed in the act of copulation, where intimacy, the desire to fulfill, and the notable lack of discomfort when that desire fails to be satiated leaves little doubt as to the strength of the bond they share. They are young, attractive, and live in a nice Barcelona apartment. It’s an evocative depiction of modern love that earns our empathy because, basically, we would like to be like them. It’s certainly an effective way of getting the audience’s attention.
Once you’ve got the audience’s attention, the next challenge is keeping it. Spanish film 10,000 Km sets about doing this through a 22-minute single take that moves from these initial panting, sweaty gyrations to construct a premise that will fully test the couple’s commitment to one another, while offering a wry commentary on the increased profile of technology in our emotional sphere.
For actress Natalia Tena, working on such an extended and unbroken introduction to the film was reminiscent of other forms of acting. “It feels like theater,” she says, “but with the added element of all the crew silently holding on with you every moment. It was my favorite part of filming.”
Tena, who is best known for her roles as Osha in Game of Thrones and Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter film series, plays Alexandra, whose plans with partner Serge are thrown up in the air by an unexpected but promising offer to stage a gallery exhibition of her photography. The only snag is that the gallery in question is in Los Angeles, something of a complicated commute from their apartment in Barcelona.
With Serge and Alex both aware of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there is little debate over whether Alex should accept. Careerwise, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. But with Serge (beardily played by David Verdaguer) advancing in his own career, settled in Spain, and longing to hear the patter of tiny feet, the only option is to enter the ideologically divisive and rocky realm of the long-distance relationship.
For director Carlos Marques-Marcet, 10,000 Km was a means of examining the shifting complexities of the world today. “I didn’t want to ‘comment’ so much as to raise questions, to start a conversation,” he says. “The world we live in is a world in which technology plays an important role that film hasn’t really known how to reflect in its complexity.”
As modern society becomes an ever-greater series of virtual interactions, much of 10,000 Km is seen through Facebook and Skype sessions. According to Marques-Marcet, this is merely the latest stage of a process which began long ago. “The way we communicate changes constantly and also changed a lot from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It’s not something exclusive to our time. I don’t believe the changes we are subjected to are better or worse than previous ones, but we have to be conscious of what we lose or win in order to better understand each other.”
Tena agrees that the situation depicted in 10,000 Km is not necessarily an allegory of our time. “Long distance love, relationships, and stories have probably existed as long as humans have,” she says. “With technology, it’s just entering into a different format that has its own advantages and disadvantages.”
For those of us locked into a lifestyle of tweeting, tindering, and instagramming, there’s much in the film that will appear familiar. But in the case of Alex and Serge, technology seems as much a hindrance as a benefit, as the virtual companionship they maintain merely reinforces the sense of solitude that envelops them, not just in the sexual context of their relationship. Dirty Skype chats may be fun with strangers (or so I’m told), but they might not represent the foundation of a solid and trustworthy union.
Is Alex’s situation something that resonates with Tena? “One always tries to relate to something in a part,” she says. “For me, I get that feeling of conflict and being torn from having my band, Molotov Jukebox, and the acting side. Both these loves pull me in different directions.”
With Alex and Serge performing the film’s only roles, and the settings confined to their apartments in Barcelona and LA, often seen through the stifling medium of a laptop screen, there’s a minimalist aesthetic to 10,000 Km. But the no-frills approach allows for greater emphasis on the two protagonists, as the emotional strain on their relationship becomes ever more apparent through increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy dialogues. The focus granted to Serge and Alex saw Tena and Verdaguer share the Special Jury Prize for acting at this year’s SXSW Festival.
In 10,000 Km, Marques-Marcet hopes to expand his cinematic exploration of non-conventional lifestyles. So what else is next? “The change in our ideas of family is something that interests me a lot,” he says, “and whether in reality it is worth conserving this model or would it be better to invent something new. There is difficulty in finding a lifelong partner while having children is no longer an obligation. There are different ways of looking at it.”