It’s taken the Film Finance Corporation and the South Australia Film Corporation a few years to get this off the ground, with title changes and shooting delays among the issues, but Adelaide audiences were treated to the world premiere of Closed for Winter at the BAFF. The adaptation of Georgia Blain’s novel has hit bumps both throughout production and in the final product, but a decent story gives us good expectation for Australian film in the year ahead.
After films like Beautiful and Last Ride have wowed audiences at the festival, Closed for Winter joins the ride of Australian films basking in the local support. There is more of a resonance for Adelaide viewers with this film though not just because of the locations (which are fun to spot – the cinema Elise works at, the older buses and their familiar noise…) but also the content. Georgia Blain’s acclaimed novel of the same name presses on the dramatic subject of a missing child, and, hinting resemblance to cases like the Beaumont children, the mystery of the beach abduction and what it does to those affected.
Elise (Natalie Imbruglia) is still picking up the pieces twenty years later, living in the same decaying house with her mum and in a relationship out of convenience rather than love. Her life is that house, her childhood home, and the resonance of the tragedy shows itself with bleak colours, the unkempt maintenance of the rooms and the backyard. It’s a metaphor for an awkward life – and on screen it carries that feeling. It comes across as an awkward film. The script (not involving Georgia Blain) gives the cast little to work with, although the narration is mostly okay, while the characters are fairly odd. Dr. Mills (Tony Martin) pops up from nowhere as the helpful carer while boyfriend Martin (Daniel Frederiksen) has taken a look directly out of Clark Kent’s closet. The film is based in the present but has a feel of a time before – in everything from the clothes and hair to how they speak. They haven’t moved on from what happened and in that sense it’s a bit sad to see that they’re still stuck in what appears a pretty dismal place.
James Bogle has presented us with a mostly smooth film, with nice use of fades and distant gazes, but there’s only so much of that you should use. The structure of Closed for Winter is fine, scenes of the past and present frequently intertwined but not confusingly. Imbruglia, in her first main movie role, is given plenty of opportunity to perfect the sad, day-dreamy look, as most scenes are reminisces to flashbacks of the fateful day. She gives her all, and there is a connection with her character on some level, but we are left feeling it could’ve been stronger. Elise needs support in her story that she isn’t getting and that transcends to withdrawn performances on screen from Frederiksen, Martin and Deborah Kennedy as Elise’s mother.
Locations are used well and the story is solid, but the awkwardness of it all is unsettling. Closed for Winter sits somewhere in the middle of recent Australian film – that isn’t a bad thing considering the industry’s recent run.