Carlos Marqués-Marcet’s romantic drama “10.000 km” opens with a long take – lasting maybe 25 minutes – of an attractive couple making love. Living in a dark, cramped apartment in Barcelona, Alexandra (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer), both in their early 30’s, have been together for seven years. While they have sex, they talk about having a baby. Afterwards the couple caries on with their normal routine; they drink coffee, eat breakfast, discuss their careers.
The 32-year-old Spanish director and his co-stars – the only two characters in the film – turned up at the New York premiere last week for the screening and a Q&A at the Museum of Modern Art. I spoke with them on the red carpet and the afterparty at 11 Gattopardo on West 54th Street.
As everyone else melted in the hot weather, which Natalia Tena laughed was ““f…king boiling,” the actress looked cool and glamorous. “I’m Spanish so I love this weather,” she told me. She was born in London, but is the daughter of Spanish parents. She is best known as the wildling Osha in “Game of Thrones” and as Tonks in the Harry Potter films “Deathly Hallows.”
I asked the actress about shooting the opening scene, one of the few times she is physically together with her co-star. “It’s actually the kind of sex scene that makes you cringe because it’s very real,” she told me. “It makes you uncomfortable because it makes you feel like a fly on the wall, you know what I mean? Whereas other sex scenes in films, it’s kind of like montage. This isn’t really that sexy. It’s a bit weird.”
Tena and her “10.000 km” co-star, who improvised much of their own dialogue in the film, did prep work to feel comfortable with each other. The director “made both of us choose music and do strip teases, which was interesting,” she laughed, “so we would know each other physically.” They also created backstories for their characters. “We improvised, talked about how we met, talked about our first kiss, deciding to have a kid.”
Tena and Verdaguer’s characters are young but not that young; they are at an age where their career prospects are narrowing. Sergi, who is practical, is studying for exams to take a teacher’s license. As an ex-pat Brit, Alex has it harder finding a job as a photographer. When Alex receives an offer of a yearlong residence in a Los Angeles gallery, which Sergi didn’t even know she had applied for, he tells her of course she must go. For Alex, this may be her last chance at a career she loves and she grabs it. Their baby dreams take a back seat.
10,000 kilometers is the distance from the dark, messy Barcelona apartment to the even tinier, very white flat Alex moves to in LA. The film takes place in only two locations with only two people. After the opener they are together only through virtual communication – Skype, e-mails, texts and Facebook. Often seen only as discombobulated heads on a computer screen, they laugh, joke, argue and cry.
Long-distance relationships are nothing new, but the movie asks if virtual communication can keep modern love going, or is it just as likely to hasten its dissolution? Sergi asks Alex about the photograph on Facebook of her friends and the man she didn’t tag. Who is he? There are fewer secrets, but it’s also easier to misread a situation or uncover a lie.
On the red carpet, when I asked Marqués-Marcet why he chose this as the subject for his first feature film debut, the director said, “It’s a modern relationship and changing a lot, and it’s a story that’s been told in many ways, long-distance love, but I thought it could be told in a different way.”
Asked if it was based on a personal experience or story, he said, “It’s the sum of many things. Spain is a country with 50 percent unemployment for young people. It’s very, very hard to get a job, so part of it was portraying this reality of people who have to live under these conditions. Economy has had an effect on every day life and on our relationships.”
As for having only two characters in the film, the director said, “It just evolved that way. We realized that the most touching and strong moments involved the two of them, and so we kind of stripped down everything else.”
He added, “The funny thing is people don’t feel like they are missing anything else. The idea was trying to contain it so you have this off-screen space for them, like in real long-distance love where you don’t know what’s happening on the other side.”
One of the best things about the film is that for a change, it’s the woman who leaves for a better career. I asked the director, who co-wrote the script with Clara Roquet, if he was a feminist.
“I’m against patriarchy that’s for sure,” he replied. “I think the role models have changed. The film is just showing a reality. I’m surrounded by women who leave their homes to pursue a professional life, more even than men, so to me, it’s more than just a gesture but portraying reality. Films should portray that reality more often.”
Marqués-Marcet just finished editing Hannah Fiddell’s next film, “Six Years,” a relationship drama, due out this year. “I love working with females,” he told me. “My crew was actually 80 percent female. But it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to get women.’ I was just getting the best people. I don’t care if they’re women or men. In this case, it just happened to be mostly women. If they are the best, that’s how it is.”
“10,000 km” feels modern and doesn’t have the familiar female tropes and stereotypes; the woman is ambitious and takes a chance while the man wants only to have a child and safe career. Tena’s character is more complicated and has a richer, more interesting interior life than we’re usually allowed to see in films.
During the Q&A following the screening, the actress said she liked her character’s sense of independence and sexual freedom. Too often women’s roles in films were reduced to “prostitutes and mothers and secretaries” she told the audience. “That’s not the reality, at least not with me and my friends.”
“10.000 km,” released by Broad Green Pictures, opened Friday, July 10.