Melbourne's Ruth Borgobello directs Italy

Published by: Richard Houlihan / Griffith Film School, Brisbane | 22-Sep-2016
Remarkably, The Space Between in the first official co-production between Italy and Australia since the two countries signed a treaty in 1996. The romantic drama will be one of the highlights at Lavazza Italian Film Festival in Brisbane, followed by a Q&A with Melbourne-based director Ruth Borgobello. TSB follows Marco (Flavio Parenti, To Rome With Love), a 35-year-old ex-chef who has given up his career to return to Udine in Northern Italy to nurse his ailing father. When tragedy strikes his friend Claudio, he tries to keep Claudio's struggling bookshop business alive. That's where he encounters Olivia (Maeve Dermody, Beautiful Kate), a spirited Australian on a family mission in Udine. To clear his head from life's complications, Flavio offers to assist Olivia on her road trip. At various stops along the way, their closeness develops.
Ruth spoke with Indulge Magazine via phone from Italy to discuss her feature-debut.

Indulge: I understand you were born in Australia, but do you have a life in Italy?
Ruth: I've always lived in Australia. I've been back and forth between Italy and Australia, but I've never actually lived in Italy. It's my first time living here in Italy.

Indulge: Were you surprised it has taken 20 years for Australia and Italy to co-produce a film?
Ruth: I was surprised, until I actually tried to do it. I understand why it has taken long to get a film made. A few productions have tried, but it's difficult to get a configuration. It's not easy to have a flexible co-production agreement. There are cultural boundaries between countries that make it challenging. Hopefully, this film will make things easier for future co-productions.

Indulge: How did you and Mario Mucciarelli [co-writer] come up with The Space Between?
Ruth: I started writing the script on my own. When we got our Italian producers, they suggested working with Mario, and it was easy working relationship. We share the same birthday, so we're basically twins. We talked on Skype and then met in person. As for the story, I wanted to explore a moment of life Italy. Mario and I were interested in the difficulties of youth. We liked the idea of young people in their 20's trying to change their lives and following a dream.

Indulge: When you have a movie that centres on two cultures [Australian and Italian] and a romance, what is the key to finding actors?
Ruth: For the role of Marco, it was always important that our actor could speak English well, and perform well in English. Both the actors had to have the characteristics of their home country, but not in a stereotypical way. Maeve as a person has hints of Italian, but of course she grew up in Australia and she embodies her homeland. When we met Flavio, he had this energy that was great for Marco because he had to reflect the nuance moments with humour.

Indulge: Was it easy or hard casting Marco and Olivia?
Ruth: It was easier with Marco because Flavio was the third actor to come in and I was immediately impressed. I cast him on the spot. Olivia was harder. Finding an Australian actress of that age-group is hard because most of them have moved to the US. When we were casting, we were dealing with so many American agents. Luckily, we found Maeve while she was living in Australia.

Indulge: The Space Between feels quiet and simple in its production, but for the most part, it's quite intimate and romantic.
Ruth: Well, much of the story takes place in a moment in the characters' lives. Something terrible and tragic happens, but I was more interested in seeing what happens to the characters in a moment of transition. I wanted to explore their journey to a new phase of life without having it be so strong and dramatic.

Indulge: Describe how you use colour in the film. One scene that stood out was when Olivia is dragging the second-hand chair on the sidewalks. Her blue sweater and red chair really sticks out in the muddy-yellow of night-time Italy.
Ruth: We put a lot of effort in colour in the film, which is very important. Like a painting, the colours convey the characters' emotions and journey. In the beginning, we dressed Flavio in muted colours because he's given up all hope in life. Then, Olivia turns up in primary, bright colours which reflect her lively personality. She comes into his world and he starts to dress differently. The backdrop of Italy is beautiful because there a lot of stone and texture, not much colour but it provides a great background.

Indulge: You could draw a comparison between Marco and your producer, Davide Giusto. Both men were born in Italy and worked in Australia as chefs.
Ruth: Davide is my husband, and the story was inspired by him. It was inspired by when we met in Italy. When he returned to Italy (for reasons that would spoil the movie), he realised the food in Italy had not evolved since he left for Australia. So we made that a part of Marco's character, always judging the food everywhere he eats. But Marco and Davide are different in many ways. We were also borrowing stories from young people and couples that were living in Italy.

Indulge: What were your cinematic influences for The Space Between?
Ruth: Kate Milwright [my cinematographer] and I would talk about Michelangelo Antonioni's films like La Notte. We liked the idea of long held wide shots, or framing choices that favour landscapes. Practically, it was challenging because we didn't have a lot of days to shoot the movie. Fellini was another influence, and we looked at Spike Jonze's Her to get that tender feeling of people connecting.

Indulge: Your 2002 short film, Claudia's Shadow, and The Space Between cover similar territory. What is it about uniting cultures, or Australians with Italian ancestry that you like to observe on film?
Ruth: I think growing up and going to film school, I was influenced by Italian cinema. I connected with the beauty of combining drama with humour. When I made short films, I was comfortable with the light, Italian approach. The characters have this humanity and grace that I connected with. Plus, I think it's because I'm half-Italian and half-Australian. I'm interested in bringing an Australian perspective to things. I like to do something that can make Italian audience look at their lives and locations in a different way.

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