Interview: Ruth Borgobello on The Space Between

The Space Between director Ruth Borgobello.

The Space Between director Ruth Borgobello.

“It was like a dream come true to see that happen in Italy and see the Aussies and the Italians working together side-by-side and bringing out the best in each other.”

by Matthew Eeles

Tell us a bit about The Space Between. What’s it about?
The Space Between is about the character of Marco who is a 35-year-old ex chef who has done his time working overseas and has been quite successful. Marco is at a point in his life where he’s quite comfortable being uncomfortable and when he’s faced with the trauma of a tragedy that comes quite unexpectedly he meets this young Australian girl, Olivia, who’s the complete opposite of him. She’s uncomfortable with being too comfortable with her life in Australia and she’s left behind her life to go to Italy and connect with her roots and follow her dream of getting into furniture design. The two come into each other’s life at this strange moment and forge this very deep relationship. They both help each other to form a more courageous version of themselves and it builds from there.

The Space Between is the first Australian/Italian feature film co-production and your graduate film, Claudia’s Shadow was also an Australian Italian story. Where does your passion for telling Australian/Italian stories come from?
Well it comes from being half Italian, half Australian. I discovered Italian cinema partly when I was in Italy and partly when I was at film school and as soon as I started watching films from Fellini and filmmakers like that I felt that that was the way I wanted to tell my stories. I loved their beautiful and poetic way of handling their characters and telling their stories. They also had an incredibly passionate way of balancing the humour with the drama. I had this deep passion to try and create a bridge between the two countries and build relationships while collaborating with the Italians and bring them together with Australians and see what would come out of that. It was like a dream come true to see that happen in Italy and see the Aussies and the Italians working together side-by-side and bring out the best in each other.

I read a quote from you recently where you said, “To me, one of the most revealing moments in life is the strange intersection between love and loss.” I wondered if any of The Space Between is based on some of your own personal experiences.
Yes it is actually. [Laughs]. It’s inspired by the moment I met my husband, who is also the producer of this film. He had just lost someone who was very important to him in his life, basically on the day I arrived in his home city. He had this dream of heading off to Australia so we had planned to spend a couple of weeks together. Even though this tragedy had happened when I arrived we still spent this time together and it was probably one of the strangest but most important moments in my life because it throws everything into question when tragedy happens. Even though I didn’t know the person he had lost I felt this strong presence from them in our relationship. I always wanted to do a film that explored that and in a way is dedicated to him as well.
The story certainly became fictional and we wanted to use Marco as a metaphor for what’s happening in Italy at the moment and how his personality and his character is blocked in his life the same way that Italy is. With all this beauty and opportunity around they just don’t have the belief that they can access it.

There’s an interesting scene towards the beginning of the film where, after the loss of his mate, Marco heads home and turns on all of the noisy appliances in his house to distract himself from his thoughts which I thought was an interesting part of his grieving process. I know it’s only a minor scene but it was quite powerful. Where did this come from?
I kind of felt in a way that Marco, who works in a factory all day, would be relaxed by that constant sound. Kind of a numbing, white noise sound which allows him not to think too much and not confront what’s really going on in his life. I felt that having Marco put on all of those appliances would help him to block everything else out and have the noise happening externally rather than in his head.
I had a friend who used to tell me he would go to sleep listening to the hair dryer because he just needed that sound to sleep and I found that really fascinating. He’s an Italian friend so I wanted to incorporate that in somehow.  

I think Maeve Dermody is an actress whose career is on the rise. Tell us a bit about working Maeve as well as the rest of the cast.
Maeve is a fascinating and extremely talented person. She’s only just turned thirty but seems wise beyond her years. She’s very deep and, for me, when I met Maeve and Fulvio I felt like they both had something very similar about them in terms of being very deep and very intelligent and very sensitive. I hoped that putting them together would allow them to connect on the level we required from the characters. We wanted it to be more than a physical attraction. Fortunately they both had that connection right from the word go. Sometimes I would listen to their conversations while I was wearing my headphones and some of the conversations they would have together were incredible. Really philosophical. We all went to dinner one night and ended up having a four hour conversation about marriage which was very funny. It was Marve and I versus Flavio. [Laughs]. It was really stimulating to work with both of them.


Maeve Dermody and Flavio Parenti in Ruth Borgobello’s The Space Between.

You co-wrote the film with Mario Mucciarelli. Did you always want to collaborate with another filmmaker on the script, and what made you want to work with Mario.
I did. I find writing to be very difficult and lonely. I would much rather direct. [Laughs]. Writing is the path to directing though so I really like to collaborate with other writers. Because this was largely focused on an Italian male main character I really felt that it was important to work with a male Italian. Mario was actually someone who I have known for a long time and it was kind of coincidental that he ended up coming on board with the film because it was actually proposed by our co-producer to bring him on board who didn’t know that we were good friends. When they brought up his name I said yes immediately. Mario brought a real comical element to it. We have the same birthday.

When you say birthday, it’s actually the same day and the same year, right?
Yes. [Laughs]. We’re like the male and female version of each other.

There’s this incredible, almost retro, colour palette used throughout the film of teal, beige and the brightest blue, green, yellow and red right down to a clock in the kitchen of Marco’s father’s house. Is there any significance to this particular palette of colours?
It was something we put a lot of effort into actually. I prepared images for each scene along with a colour palette. I divided the palette into three scenes to follow the journey of the two main characters because colour feels so strong for me in Italy and it’s something that really inspired me to make the film there. I felt that colour was a really good tool to illustrate what was going on with Marco and his mood at the time and the difference that Olivia brings into his life and for him to actually physically start wearing colour. There was a lot of effort put into it and a lot of coordinating between the departments as well to make sure it was realised. At the beginning everyone was terrified. [Laughs]. My art director was amazing. I think I drove that department nuts. [Laughs].

This is your first feature film after two short films so I think it’s safe for me to call you a newcomer. What kind of films can audiences expect from you in the future. What kind of movies interest you the most and what kind of films do you want to make?
I think now that I’ve done such a personal and intimate film I’m wanting to do something quite different. At the moment I’m thinking of doing a futuristic drama focused around climate change because I think I think that that’s the most important topic at the moment to me. I’d really like to explore it in a positive way and not a fear-driven way and to really look at how the world could be. In developing that I keep coming back to a love story as well. [Laughs]. It was something I never thought I’d do but it seems to be something that comes naturally now [Laughs]. It will definitely involve Italy and outback Australia so I’ve already began location scouting.

Do you keep up to date with the Australian film scene?
Because I’ve been back and forth I’ve missed a lot of films that I really wanted to see. I really liked Looking For Grace actually because our director of photography shot that. I really enjoyed that and I really liked the humour in it. I thought it was a really beautiful balance.

The Space Between is having its world premiere at the Italian Film Festival in Australia. How does it feel to finally share your work with audiences?
It’s both terrifying and exciting. [Laughs]. It’s all about the audience and it’s very important that they connect with the film and have an emotional reaction to it. I hope that if people have had a similar experience to the one in the film that they can relate and connect to the story and share in the experience and in the power of it. I also wanted to bring to Australia an insite into what it’s really like in Italy now – that it’s not just all romantic and beautiful and indulgent and that it is quite a tough life there at the moment, especially for Italians of my age group and younger. We’re really lucky in Australia to have the freedom and opportunities that we have but it’s much more challenging at the moment in Italy.

The Space Between is screening at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival. You can find more details


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