LONG DISTANCE (10,000km) – London Film Festival Review
There have been no shortage of films to deal with long distance relationships over the past few years – from the disappointing Sundance winner Like Crazy to the interminable mainstream rom-com Going The Distance. None of these movies, however, have been observed with the intelligence or heart of the Spanish drama Long Distance (original title: 10,000km).
The delicate insight into long distance romance begins with the very first shot: an unbroken 20-minute long sequence set within the cosy Barcelona apartment of a young couple – aspiring teacher Sergi (David Verdaguer) and budding photographer Alex (Game Of Thrones‘ Natalia Tena). The stunning opening shot, which pans and moves only occasionally but otherwise remains perfectly still, observes their fairly mundane morning activity. They have sex. They brush their teeth. They eat breakfast. One showers while the other reads an e-mail. The sequence paints a beautifully natural portrait of a strong and grounded relationship.
However, their normalcy is about to be shattered by the contents of that aforementioned e-mail, which reveals that Alex has been given an opportunity to work on a photography project in Los Angeles. It would take her away from her boyfriend (who is in the middle of his teaching studies and cannot join her) for a whole year.
Director Carlos Marques-Marget, having soothed us into a false sense of security with this still, elongated insight into Sergi and Alex’s comfortable existence, jettisons this style of the opening sequence as Alex makes this trip to Los Angeles. He replaces it with a series of short episodes from their year apart, each marked with title cards that announce how many days they have been separated. It is a simple but outstanding creative decision that brilliantly reflects the disjoining of their relationship in Long Distance; the sudden emotional jolt from spending uninterrupted time with one another to being separated by thousands of miles, on completely different continents no less.
In these episodes, Sergi and Alex (who are the only two characters in the movie) attempt to continue their relationship by communicating via technology. Skype, social media and their smartphones are the only connections they have to one another. However, this technology is just as much a barrier as it is a connection for them. The moments in which they have a romantic dinner together by facing their laptop, or try to recreate the act of sleeping beside one another by resting their PCs on their pillows, are as heartbreaking as they are tender.
Because the narrative is based almost entirely around technology-based communications, the majority of Long Distance is set within each character’s respective apartments. The economical style is risky. It means that the movie’s success rests on the shoulders of actors David Verdaguer and Natalia Tena. Every one of the film’s ambitions relies on their success at depicting the emotional roller-coaster of their turbulent year apart. Nevertheless, their performances are pitch-perfect, ranking among the very finest of the year so far. Verdaguer and Tena are both excellent at capturing the internalized friction between the pair in quietly devastating fashion, as the distance begins to take its toll on both them and their romance.