When we first see Alexandra and Sergio, the protagonists of the award-winning Spanish drama "10,000 Km," they have decided to have a baby and are making love in their small Barcelona apartment.
As the morning progresses, they continue blissfully with their routines — showering, making breakfast. But their tranquillity is shattered when she receives an email inviting her to Los Angeles for a paid, one-year artistic residency that could be her last opportunity to restart her dormant photography career.
Should she stay or go? Will their relationship survive the separation?
Director and co-writer Carlos Marques-Marcet said the two-character drama, which opens in L.A. on Friday, is not about love. "It is about relationships, and relationships are about other things than just love."
"Every couple has cracks," he noted in a phone interview.
And those cracks show quickly. Sergio becomes jealous and angry when Alexandra tells him she was notified a year ago about the possibility of the residency. She doesn't understand why he isn't happy for her.
"We tried to find a balance with the movie," said Marques-Marcet, who is making his feature debut with "10,000 Km." "He is jealous, but he has a reason to be angry. But you couldn't say it's his fault or her fault. It is complicated. I wanted to reflect a little bit on the messiness of relationships."
Pictures about long-distance relationships are nothing new, the filmmaker added, "but when you see movies about long-distance relationships, they focus on the moment when they get together. But what is interesting is when they are apart and still communicating with each other, because that is where the real drama is."
Alexandra (Natalia Tena) and Sergio (David Verdaguer) use every means possible to communicate — video chat, texting, emails, Facebook, even Google Maps. And at first, their conversations are fun, intimate and even cinematic.
"When you talk with Skype or FaceTime or video chat communication, you become your own filmmaker," said Marques-Marcet. "You are your own director. You are going to set what background you are going to see and how you can put yourself in the middle of the frame. It is almost like the theory of filmmaking has been applied in our everyday life."
Alexandra and Sergio cook, have dinner and even get romantic during their video chats. But they soon realize it isn't enough. Alexandra begins to explore Los Angeles and develops new friendships. Their chats and emails become more erratic. In frustration, Sergio breaks into a rage during one of their video chats.
Though technology should make a relationship easier to deal with long distance, "every day you are very aware of the distance," Marques-Marcet said. "Video chats can be very useful communication, but at the same time, it doesn't substitute for romantic relationships."
Though the movie is not autobiographical, the filmmaker did deal with a separation from his own family and a girlfriend when he was 25 and attending UCLA. He and his co-writer, Clara Roquet, talked with friends about how they dealt with separations.
They decided to explore the effect of a separation on a more mature relationship because the stakes were higher. "When you are in your early 20s and you break up, you will find somebody else, but later in life, maybe it will happen and maybe it won't."
The film was shot over 20 days — the opening 18-minute sequence in the apartment took three days — and was shot in chronological order in two different apartments in Barcelona.
Tena and Verdaguer, who bare their souls and a whole lot more in the film, won the award for best acting duo this year at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Verdauger is best known for his comedic work on television. Tena, a British actress of Spanish descent best known as Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter films, was a last-minute replacement. With Tena's casting, the character of Alexandra became a British woman living in Barcelona.
Marques-Marcet, who lives both in Barcelona and Los Angeles, is busy on his next project. He is one of 11 Spanish film professionals who have created the L.A.-based La Panda Productions.
"A lot of Spaniards are coming to Los Angeles," he said. "We want to keep working here. I love Los Angeles. It's one of my favorite places in the world."