Necessity is the mother of invention in "10,000 Km," for the characters and filmmaker alike.
The story of a long-distance relationship in the digital age, the debut feature from director Carlos Marques-Marcet is built on self-imposed constraints: There are only two speaking roles within a tightly confined set of locations, and the lovers, separated by a continent and an ocean, communicate chiefly by video chat.
Within those limitations, the director has found a visually dynamic way to present a slender wisp of a tale. The insights about tech-enabled disconnections are hardly earth-shattering, but the nuanced performances find the emotional truth in every pixelated gaze.
Natalia Tena ("Game of Thrones") and David Verdaguer play Alexandra and Sergi, a Barcelona, Spain, couple in their early 30s who have been together seven years. As the movie opens, in the midst of tender Sunday-morning sex, they're eager to up the commitment ante by having a baby. Or at least one of them is. The parenthood plan is quickly complicated by an offer that British transplant Alex, a struggling photographer, can't refuse: a yearlong artist residency in Los Angeles.
Sergi's peeved reaction to the news, and Alex's silence until now about her interest in the L.A. opportunity, are the first signals of a conflict that they may not be willing to acknowledge. They're in love and determined to keep the fires burning while Alex heads west and Spanish native Sergi stays behind, intent on taking the state exam that will give him security as a teacher.
The couple's intimacy inevitably morphs into an awkward cyber variant. Their Skype sessions can have the playful purposefulness of a date or the distracted air that comes with multitasking. There are tours of Alex's new neighborhood (Silver Lake) via laptop camera and Google Maps, and though Sergi is given to pangs of jealousy, he urges her to get out and meet people. The film subtly suggests worlds outside the relationship, alternately expanding and contracting.
The miles between the duo expose a clash of temperament that might fuel love or prove its undoing. On one side, the flat expanse of new horizons, embodied in Alex's stark photographic studies of California; on the other, the homey clutter of the life she shared with Sergi, and an Old World sense of romantic destiny.
It's no news flash that screens increasingly mediate experience or that it's easy to feel abandoned when exploring a loved one's Facebook updates. But as Alex and Sergi face each other across the telecommunications-software bridge, Marques-Marcet, co-writer Clara Roquet and the actors are alert to something less obvious: the ways that they become self-conscious performers. Even though the characters aren't always likable, their pained awareness is poignant.
MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, language, brief graphic nudity
In Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles