It seems incredible, given the vibrancy of the Italian community in Australia, that the debut feature of Melbourne-based writer/director Ruth Borgobello, The Space Between, is the first ever co-production between the countries.
Borgobello's movie makes its world premiere at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival (LIFF) this week. Her experience of shooting in Udine and surrounds, with its stunning backdrop of ancient buildings, the Adriatic, rugged mountains and rolling green hills in north-eastern Italy, gave her a couple of clues as to why it hadn’t happened before.
“The two countries are so different when it comes to filmmaking and government financing and regulations,” she acknowledges. “Trying to make them match up required a lot of hard work and patience. As an Australian you sort of want to do things quickly, but with Italy you just have to take a deep breath, have a glass of wine and slow down.”
"As an Australian you sort of want to do things quickly, but with Italy you just have to take a deep breath, have a glass of wine and slow down."
A beautifully paced and shot film, with luscious cinematography from Katie Millwright, The Space Between explores the nature of grief, the foundations of love and the pursuit – or not – of dreams. It also draws loosely on the real-life experience of Borgobello’s first meeting with her future husband, Davide Giusto, one of the movie’s producers.
Borgobello’s Italian father Maurizio, who was born in Gorizia and migrated to Australia with his parents at the age of seven, took her to see where he grew up back in 1998 when she was 20, following which she backpacked around Europe. She met Giusto on the tragic day someone very dear to him died. “We spent that couple of weeks together and I guess that created a very strong connection between us,” she says. “It always stayed with me, the presence of his loss and the fact that our relationship was sort of born in that moment. It had such a big impact on both of our lives and I thought it could be very interesting to explore in film.”
Rising Italian-French star Flavio Parenti (I Am Love, To Rome With Love) plays Marco, a passionate chef who’s lost his way, giving it all up and returning to Udine where he hides behind the ill health of his father as a reason not to face reality. His retreat is shattered by tragedy at the same time as a beautiful stranger, Olivia (Maeve Dermody, Beautiful Kate, Black Water), waltzes into his life and haunts his dreams.
While the similarities to real life are clear, Borgobello took a great deal of creative license, insisting with a laugh that it would be a little self-indulgent casting people who mimicked her and Giusto too closely. Indeed, she freely admits casting Parenti had a huge effect on the shape of the film. “The character initially was a bit more rough around the edges. Flavio brought something different to it, a bit more sensitivity and delicacy. I really loved his energy. He had this sparkling charisma and he’s much more understated than your typical Italian actor, so his performance dictated some of the film’s pacing too.”
“It always stayed with me, the presence of his loss and the fact that our relationship was sort of born in that moment. It had such a big impact on both of our lives and I thought it could be very interesting to explore in film.”
While the original plan was to shoot in Australia, Borgobello’s deep-felt connection to that part of the world drew her back to Udine despite the added complexities of filming in Italy. It also meant casting in two different countries, so plumping for Dermody was a gamble in more ways than one.
“I didn’t have the opportunity for them to met each other, so it was kind of a bit scary the first time they met, to make sure they really did connect and had chemistry. We were very lucky that they did, instantly, and we did quite intensive rehearsals for a week before the shoot.”
Initially looking to cast an Italian-Australian for Olivia, Borgobello was inescapably drawn to Dermody, but with one stipulation, her long blonde hair had to go. “I really liked her sensitivity, intelligence and warmth so I persuaded her to change her look completely. She nearly had a heart attack when we were in Rome and it actually came to the moment to go dark and get a fringe, but she was really fantastic.”
While Italy may have won out in terms of location, Melbourne casts a long shadow over the film, with one character named for St Kilda restaurateur and patron of the arts Ronnie di Stasio, who came on board as a sponsor after clicking with Parenti and Borgobello, and also with the support of LIFF hosts Palace Cinemas. CEO Benjamin Zeccola is credited as an executive producer.
“We had a really nice connection, both having the Italian background and a similar family history,” Borgobello says. “He admired the fact that we were doing something different, creating this connection between the two countries. Getting to know him, he’s very passionate about supporting women in film too.”
Borgobello can’t wait to show it to her family and friends and is grateful for LIFF’s national platform. “Without this festival, I probably never would have thought to make a film in Italy. That was my insight into Italian cinema, so debuting it here is perfect. My dad’s been a big part of the film too, helping us attract private investors and selling so many tickets as well. I’m really excited for it to reach an Australian audience and very curious to see how they’ll respond to it.”
The Space Between screens at LIFF.
Watch 'I Am Love' at SBS On Demand
Language: Italian, Russian
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Tilda Swinton
What's it about?
Over two decades ago, Emma left Russia to follow Tancredi Recchi, the man who had proposed to her. Now a member of a wealthy Milanese family, she is the respected mother of three. Although not unhappy, Emma feels confusedly unfulfilled. As cracks in the family façade appear, she is reawakened to the forces of passion and unconditional love.