Thursday, April 23, 2009

Closed for Winter: unlocking summer's secrets

Australian writer/director James Bogle has given us the very introspective Closed for Winter, an adaptation of Georgia Blain’s 1998 novel of the same name. This dark film brought to mind the recent French language I’ve loved you for so long, “This is a sombre, desolate tale. It is as much about her complex relationships as it is the past.”

Both stories explore coming to terms with loss, about achieving the dreaded ubiquitous cliché and about creating a new beginning.

Twenty years after the disappearance of her older sister Frances (Danielle Catanzariti) Elise Silverton (Natalie Imbruglia) is obsessed by her memories. Frances’ fate is still unresolved. Her mother Dorothy (Deborah Kennedy) spends her waking hours compulsively reading and responding to similar tragic news items. Her dilapidated house is piled with newspapers. The shadowy absence of her husband, who died in a work accident before the disappearance, hangs over everything.

Two other men help to break this cycle of mourning. A relationship with her boss Martin (Daniel Frederiksen) offers a way out for Elise. Daniel’s performance as the geekish nerd who manages the local cinema was the hardest to warm to. It seems too much of a caricature.

John Mills has been the family’s long-term doctor. His developing friendship with Elise brings the film’s climax that helps her to confront the past. Tony Martin gives a restrained, perhaps underwhelming, portrayal.

Those who haven’t followed Neighbours or aren’t great fans of popular music, Natalie Imbruglia may not be as familiar as Kylie Minogue. Most of her acting has been for television. She does brooding silence very well but doesn’t handle vigorous dialogue as skillfully. The young Elise (Tiahn Green) does silences even better. Like many recent roles by child actors, her performance steals a lot of Natalie’s impact. Natalie also seems a few years too old for her part.

Deborah Kennedy maintains a crazed sparkle in the eyes, warning that Dorothy's neuroses should not be taken lightly.

Bogle’s controlled direction manages the frequent flashbacks fluently and effectively. The beach scenes with the aging pier mold the mood of the tragic summer perfectly. However, at times these shots linger too long, in what is an otherwise concise production. There are some twee aspects such as the garden and the mosaic but they are minor irritations.

The film is not really a mystery or suspense, though much of the critical action happens off camera. Towards the end Elise says that she now knows as much as she need to. The same is true for the audience. The resolution is predictable but that doesn’t spoil this troubled journey. An emotional life that has been flat-lining for so long has only two possible directions.

(Thanks to the Melbourne Writers Festival and Goalpost Pictures for the complimentary tickets.)

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