Reaching for the Moon

2013 | Lesbian / Poetry / Sexuality / Women's Studies | 118m | USA
Directors: Bruno Barreto

Winner of the Audience Award at Frameline37: The San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, this sumptuous period piece recounts the mid-life years of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop. In 1951, the then obscure woman writer decides to take a trip—”the geographic cure,” her friend Robert “Cal” Lowell (Treat Williams) teases. And so Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy) sets sail for Rio de Janeiro and a life-changing relationship with the wealthy, and very butch, architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Pampered by the extravagant Lota, Elizabeth writes, wins awards, and is feted by Rio society. But problems lurk: Elizabeth’s alcoholism, Lota’s difficulties building Rio’s Flamengo Park, and a government coup.

Director Bruno Barreto beautifully captures the vibrant feel of design-conscious mid-century Brazil; however, it’s the sharp writing, smoldering on-screen chemistry, and stellar performances (particularly by Brazilian telenovela star Gloria Pires) that make this lavish big-screen adaptation of a messy, yet gloriously romantic, relationship so deeply satisfying.

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Reviews and Awards

“Imagines Elizabeth Bishop’s extraordinary relationship with the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares … a battle of creative and romantic egos. —New York Times

“Bruno Barretto directed this compelling drama about the tragic love affair between the American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). The film begins with a skittish and remote Bishop traveling to Petropolis, Brazil, to visit an old college friend named Mary (Tracy Middendorf), and the latter’s live-in lover, the seemingly fearless and boldly creative Soares. After initial frustration with Bishop’s neurotic aloofness, Soares falls for the writer, initiating a 15-year relationship marked by alcoholism, jealousy, conflict, and competing ambitions. Bishop, who grew up without a father and whose mother was confined to a mental institution for decades (ultimately dying there), at first seems happy to fall under the nurturing, take-charge sway of Soares. But as her stock as a poet rises (Bishop wins a Pulitzer and National Book Award, among other accolades), there are tensions with the ambitious architect exacerbated by liquor and disagreements over Brazil’s political future. Barretto takes a sweeping approach to the story, coaxing strong performances from the cast. Highly recommended. (T. Keogh) —Video Librarian, 3 1/2 Stars