The title of this first ever Australia-Italy co-production could easily refer to the myriad spaces between those moments when something actually happens. First time feature director Ruth Borgobello – a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts – has crafted a film that looks beautiful but is lacking in emotional or narrative heft. Themes such as aging, grief, sacrifice and love are touched upon but never really explored in any depth. In fact, other than a couple of brief moments that draw an emotional reaction, the whole thing plays out as a somewhat stilted story that never looks to be leading anywhere interesting and ultimately doesn’t. In fact, when the ending comes, you are never likely to give another thought to this couple who engage in one of the most tepid on-screen couplings we have seen for quite a while. A complete lack of chemistry between Marco (Flavio Parenti) and Olivia (Maeve Dermody) renders their relationship unconvincing, which makes it hard to care too much what happens to them or between them.
Marco is a talented chef who, having abandoned his job in New York following the death of his mother, has returned to his home town of Udine in Italy where he works in a factory and takes care of his father. He and his friend Claudio (Lino Guanciale) hold elaborate dinner parties and it is at one of these soirees that he meets Audrey (Patricia Mason), an Australian restaurant owner who offers him an opportunity to work in Melbourne. As luck would have it, tragedy strikes and Marco finds himself struggling to cope with the fallout when he comes across Olivia – another Australian just in case there was any doubt about the funding arrangements – who is in town to sell an apartment that belongs to her grandparents. Perhaps the most frustrating failing of the piece is the lack of personality that afflicts so many of the other characters that permeate the narrative. With the exception of the elderly couple who run a hotel visited by Claudio and Olivia, there is nobody who possesses the level of flamboyance and charisma we might typically expect from a film set in this part of the world. Sure, you don’t want people presented as ethnic stereotypes, but the supporting players here are all so dull that it is excruciating. Furthermore, we don’t even find out the names of some of them and/or what their relationship is to Marco and each other.
The northern Italian architecture and the cobblestone laneways, which look particularly fetching at night, are captured to great effect by cinematographer Katie Milwright (Looking for Grace) and, as such, The Space Between looks suitably romantic. It’s just a shame too much time is spent on dream/flashback sequences rather than developing the relationship between the two leads. Neither character is fleshed out in any great detail, but Olivia in particular is a mystery. We learn little about her other than the fact she likes to help herself to other people’s stuff, a proclivity which results in the only real moment of tension between the two. Despite supposedly having fallen for each other, neither Marco nor Olivia seems particularly upset when it appears as though they could find themselves living on opposite sides of the globe.
The film touches on the efforts of those wanting to protect the legacy of somebody after they have died and this is perhaps the most interesting, and emotionally complex, thread of the narrative so it would have been good to see Borgobello, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mario Mucciarelli, place greater emphasis on this aspect of the story. As an Australian production (well, partly at least) directed by a new female filmmaker, this is the type of movie that you really want to like and, whilst there is plenty to admire in the aesthetics, there just isn’t enough substance to make this The Space Between – the fifth feature with this title in the last six years or so – particularly memorable.
The Space Between will feature during the 2016 Lavazza Italian Film Festival at Palace Barracks from September 28 to October 19. For festival information, including session times and ticketing, head to the festival website.