Closed for Winter -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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SYDNEY -- A dreamy wisp of a film, "Closed for Winter" drifts by inoffensively enough but never gains any emotional traction. Only a mesmeric central performance from London-based Aussie pop star Natalie Imbruglia anchors the minor-key loops of the narrative as it dawdles its way toward a fairly so-what revelation.

This is Imbruglia's first lead role (following her 2003 debut opposite Rowan Atkinson in Brit comedy "Johnny English") and her strong profile in Europe has secured its release there, with a U.K. berth sure to follow its limited domestic release.

Writer-director James Bogle has focused almost obsessively on mood in adapting Georgia Blain's novel about a young woman struggling to find closure following the mysterious disappearance of her older sister 20 years previously.

Imbruglia's ethereal loveliness echoes the haunting beauty of the sparsely peopled South Australian beach-side location, and Bogle makes the most of both, his camera lingering long and often as the actress gazes pensively into the past.

The source of her pain unravels in fragmented flashback, as we revisit the sunny day when the younger Elise (newcomer Tiahn Green) and her rebellious sister Frances (a sparky Danielle Catanzariti) follow their regular routine spending the day at the beach while their widowed mother Dorothy (Deborah Kennedy) is at work.

When Frances disappears, leaving just a cigarette butt in the dunes, both Elise and Dorothy enter a decades-long funk. Unable to move on, Dorothy spends her days sifting through towering piles of newspapers and writing to the parents of other missing children; Elise sleepwalks through her job, an improbable relationship with her chirpy, frankly annoying boss (Daniel Frederiksen), and her quiet, sorrowful life.

Some light is shed on the central mystery with a late-in-the-game admission by the kindly local doctor (Tony Martin) but it seems resolution is not really the intent here. Bogle wants us to feel the ache. But, despite the magnetic allure of Imbruglia's huge-eyed wistfulness, a surfeit of introspection results in a handsomely shot, but ultimately stagnant, tone poem.

Festival de Cannes -- Market
Opened: April 23, Australia

Production company: Goalpost Pictures and Kojo Pictures
Cast: Natalie Imbruglia, Daniel Frederiksen, Deborah Kennedy, Danielle Catanzariti
Writer-director: James Bogle
Executive producer: Rosemary Blight
Producers: Ben Grant and Kent Smith
Director of photography: Kim Batterham
Production designer: Rita Zanchetta
Music: Daniel Denholm
Costume designer: Anita Seiler
Editor: Denise Haratzis
Sales: Goalpost Pictures, London

No rating, 85 minutes