The Space Between is the feature length debut from director Ruth Borgobello and the first to come out of the Italian/Australian co-production treaty signed way back in the ‘90s. A potent blend of second chances, love and stunning scenery, the film is likely to resonate with the Europhiles of Australia.
Filmmaker Ruth Borgobello hadn’t always wanted to be a director. Growing up she had her heart set on being an actress or a writer. Discovering films like A Clockwork Orange and The Graduate in her teens, led her to wanting to study film at VCA. A word from her careers guidance counselor led her down a different path however.
“He gave me a disapproving look,” Ruth explains “and said, ‘if you want to study arts, then at least do Arts/Commerce so you have a back-up.’ I took his advice to heart and ended up at Melbourne Uni studying Commerce, sneaking in a few cinema subjects and getting involved in theatre. Marketing was the most creative of the majors on offer so I did that.”
But that wasn’t the end of her story. Deciding she didn’t like her profession, Ruth packed it up and went to film school. Clearly, for Ruth, it was about taking a chance, which isn’t too dissimilar to Marco (Flavio Parenti), one of the protagonists of The Space Between. Marco has the potential to be a great chef, but when tragedy strikes, the Italian decides an easier, less rewarding life is the answer. Cue Olivia (Maeve Dermody), a visiting Melbournite who awakens something in him. The film is based, in part, on Olivia’s first meeting with her husband Davide, who is also a producer, in Italy.
“On the day we first met, he lost someone very close to him in a tragic accident,” She says candidly. In spite of this, we spent two weeks together and it forged a very deep connection between us as Davide tried to grapple with his grief. When it came to making my first film, I wanted to do something inspired by him and this strange intersection of love and loss.”
With the film set in Udine, Italy, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Ruth is heavily influenced by the country’s cinema. Talking about the films that inspire her, she mentions Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beautiful.
“I love the humanity in these films and always felt drawn to this style of filmmaking,” she beams. “I also love more artistic directors like Antonioni and Fellini. I think Fellini was the master of striking this balance – there is so much humour, yet tragedy in his films that I love. For The Space Between, Katie Milwright (cinematographer) and I took inspiration from films like Her (the use of colour and framing), La Notte (camera movement and space around the actors) and Godard films like A Woman is a Woman (style and colour).”
Ruth’s several mentions of colour become evident in her film, which, from the very first frame, is an explosion of sharp colour. Not to use the word too lightly, but it’s sumptuous, with an opening dream sequence coming across as a moving painting.
“For me, colour is one of the most important tools in cinema,” Ruth enthuses. “In The Space Between, where there is a strong emotional journey that is largely internal and great contrast between characters and locations, colour was a really important visual instrument to reflect this. I put together a visual reference to the screenplay with a colour palette for each phase of Marco’s journey in the film. This was a guide for the costumes, production design and cinematography choices.”
As well as being her first feature, The Space Between is, as previously mentioned, the first film to come out of The Australia/Italy Co-production Treaty. A treaty which was signed in 1993! Considering her film was the first one out of the gate, did Ruth feel any pressure to perform? Seemingly, the filmmaker took it all in her stride.
“It was always a secret dream to try to create this bridge,” she admits “But when we first looked into it and talked to different producers, it seemed quite impossible. The two industries, cultures and ways of working are just so different; it’s hard to find a middle ground. More than anything it requires a lot of flexibility, which Italy really embraced but Australia was harder. It was like trying to fit a circle into a square. I think we only managed to do it because of Davide being Italian/Australian as the Australian producer and knowing how to negotiate those differences and cross-pollinate them to strengthen the outcomes.”
As the story of Marco and Olivia plays out, there are several moments in the film, particularly the ending, where transitioning in life becomes a theme and how we may be called upon to leave certain things behind – regardless of the difficulty – in order to move forward. Does Ruth feel that a little bit of sacrifice has to be made in order to follow a particular dream?
“Yes. In my experience – a great deal of sacrifice!” Ruth says. “But I also think we are conditioned in a way to see some things as a sacrifice. So many people say to us that we have sacrificed financial security and time to this film for example, but I don’t see it as a sacrifice. For me it would have been a much greater sacrifice to not have done it. But I do think life is a continual letting go and shedding to allow new people and journeys to commence. I think particularly in moments of transition, there are important choices and risks to take that allow you to be ready to embrace the next phase.”
The Space Between will be having a special Q&A screening at Cinema Nova in Melbourne on 20th July (Tickets are available from the Cinema Nova website) and Palace Norton Street Cinemas in Sydney on Tuesday 25th July at 6pm (Tickets are available from the Palace Cinemas website). It will be released for 1 week only through Palace Cinemas nationwide from July 20, 2017