A profound yet cluttered drama, Closed for Winter boasts fine performances, yet is let down by questionable filmmaking and an unfulfilled central mystery.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Georgia Blain, pop songstress Natalia Imbruglia (in her debut lead role) stars as Elise, a withdrawn young woman whose life is haunted by the disappearance of her older sister, Frances (Danielle Catanzariti).
With Elise’s head stuck in the past, the film constantly –and clumsily - flashes back to the days of her youth, which were mostly spent following Frances to the beach, where she is ordered to play in shallow water, while Frances ventures over the sand dunes to smoke cigarettes and flirt with boys.
One such day ends in tragedy, as young Elise –played wonderfully by Tiahn Green – waits anxiously for her sister to return. 20 years on and Frances is still missing.
Back to the present, and Elise is set to leave her crumbling family abode, shared with her anti-social mother Dorothy (Deborah Kennedy), for middle class suburbia with clumsy boyfriend Martin (Daniel Frederiksen) whose attempts to bring normalcy into their lives often fails due to his forceful and insensitive nature.
Cue an agonising dinner party –those intimate moments which reveal the souls of all men – where a sweating Martin fails to coax a laugh from Dorothy with his daggy sense of humour, while looking on disapprovingly to the stacks of newspapers which clog the eroded dwelling that Elise called home for so many years; a house as broken as her family.
Strong acting is something Closed for Winter is not short of. Imbruglia surprises with a quiet yet powerful turn, her fame and beauty never overruling her performance; Deborah Kennedy and Daniel Frederiksen are pitch perfect as the thorns in Elise’s side; and Tony Martin provides gravitas as the town doctor and family friend.
Yet it is the films two child actors – Danielle Catanzariti and Tiahn Green -who steal the show with performances beyond their young years, with Catanzariti in particular continuing to impress from her breakthrough role in last year’s Hey, Hey Its Esther Blueburger.
Where the film constantly stumbles is in its direction. James Bogle –who received rave notices for his 1998 feature, In the Winter Dark - seems to have followed a checklist of “must do’s” that many Australian drama’s have abided by with religious devotion. Tale of twisted suburbia? Check. Dreary score? Check. Camera framed as tight as possible on actors face? Check.
On top of this, Bogle then chips in with David Lynch inspired touches, which takes away from the films story and leaves a pretentious vibe. Come to think of it, another recent Australian drama, Beautiful, also succumbed to such tactics. Check on that, too.
The films narration –often a series on non-sensical ramblings - pushes its exaggerated tone to the point of wondering: exactly where will the films engrossing set up lead to? Unfortunately, it is to a place where the viewer is left with more questions than answers. Especially this: when will Australian filmmakers finally catch up to the talent of their actors?