Closed For WInter
Details: (M), 85 mins, In Cinemas 23 April 2009, Australia, English
Synopsis: An emotional and poetic story of a beautiful young woman, who is haunted by a tragic event in her youth. As she attempts to piece together the mystery of her sister's disappearance at the beach, twenty years before when both were children, Elise (Natalie Imbruglia) must face dark family secrets that have remained unspoken. As the past is revealed, she at last finds the courage to begin to live.
An earnest study in grief.
Denied an engaging narrative structure because of domineering flashback sequences and awkward moments of style over substance, director James Bogle’s Closed For Winter becomes a study in grief, and not a very involving one at that.
In her first dramatic role since the height of her popularity in Neighbours, the lovely Natalie Imbruglia stars as Elise, a forlorn woman for whom adulthood is a prison; her life has been corroded by the memory of her older sister’s disappearance when they were children. Elise has settled for a life in which her upwardly-mobile, overly-optimistic fiance Martin (Daniel Frederiksen) provides her with hope, and in which she plays psych-nurse for her fragile mother Dorothy(Deborah Kennedy), a woman who remains obsessed with her missing child and has become a brittle shell of a human being.
Bogle’s film is intent on examining the angst that Elise suffers, but does so at the expense of an engaging story. There is far too much time spent on interpretations of memory, glimpses of a time long past, heavy-handed symbolism representing sadness, longing and hope (the introduction of the backyard garden is especially hard to swallow).
Though gloriously photogenic, Imbruglia struggles with the lack of character momentum – she stares at her reflection, or winces at her mother’s pain, but it rarely leads to insight or growth. Some shared scenes of exuberance with her BFF Jocelyn, played with much-appreciated gusto by Sophie Ross, provide fleeting warmth to her character but it’s not enough. Most disconcerting, however, is the immediate support cast – a sitcom-like characterisation from Frederiksen and a scenery-chewing exercise in maudlin melancholy from Kennedy terribly undermine moments that should have brought tears. The only standouts are Tony Martin, as the keeper of the secret that drives the plot in its final act, and Danielle Catanzariti as Frances, the missing girl. Frances is only ever glimpsed in flashback, but she possesses a sense of burgeoning feminine guile that provides the only satisfyingly-shaded characterisation in the film.
It is a shame not to like this film, because Bogle wants us to embrace his characters as much as he does. I never doubted that for the writer-director, this was a movie about which he cared deeply and for whom the journey his lead character undertook was powerful and significant. But such deep intent often leads to over-statement and a lack of subtlety and Closed For Winter suffers because of Bogle’s convictions. The film is too earnest; too pre-occupied with its own themes. Profound cinematic examinations of grief can soar – Robert Redford’s Ordinary People or Brad Silberling’s Moonlight Mile, for example – but Closed For Winter, despite its best intentions, is an unrelenting downer.
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