★★★★★ Reaching For The Moon | Elizabeth Bishop was something of a self-absorbed cold fish. When she finished her tenure as US Poet Laureate in 1950, she was 40 years old, alone in N.Y., and suffering with ‘writers block’. At the suggestion of her friend and fellow poet Robert Lowell she decides to go to South America for a long vacation.
Her first port of call is Rio de Janiero where she planned to stay a few days with Mary an old college friend. Mary lives on the most idyllic country estate with her very fiery lover Lota de Macedo Soares a highly successful and wealthy local architect. However the uptight poet and the bohemian artist immediately strike up a hostile relationship with Elizabeth demanding to be taken back to the city so that she can stay in a hotel on her own. It’s very clear however that under this overly dramatic stance that there is a strong mutual attraction that they soon act on.
Lota declares that she is in love and demands that Elizabeth stay for good, and poor rejected Mary is bought off with an adopted baby, and the three women live on the estate, sort of together, for the best part of the next two decades. Lota besotted with Elizabeth builds her new amour a stunning new studio atop a mountain and the poetry starts to flow again. She wins a Pulitzer and the National Book Award but with Mary still on the premises, Elizabeth is consumed with jealousy and a lot of whisky too.
This relationship between this self-centred pessimistic pale New England WASP and this tempestuous energetic fun-loving Latino artist with such a generous heart was as an unlikely match as chalk and cheese, and when Elizabeth tumbles into alcoholism and Lota eventually into depression, their relationship never recovers.
Based on Carmen L. Oliveira’s novelistic 2002 biography ‘Rare and Commonplace Flowers,’ this mainly true story portrays this highly unusual but very passionate relationship involving two iconic artists. In her lifetime Bishop was an immensely private person and hated being identified as a lesbian or as a feminist and even refused to have her work published in all-female anthologies. Yet here in this highly personal account of her middle-age even though she had many qualms about this unorthodox relationship/family arrangement, she entered in to it willingly and initially with a great deal of enthusiasm. At one point Lota explains her own motive with ‘I want everything I can get’… to which Elizabeth never replied, but then again, she wanted even more.
This is filmmaker Bruno Barreto’s second English language movie (his first was the very disappointing camp ‘View From The Top’ with Gwyneth Paltrow playing a cheesy flight attendant) and he had the good sense to cast Brazilian award-winning Soap Opera star Gloria Pires as Lota. Opposite her in the role of Elizabeth Bishop was Miranda Otto the Australian actress best known for being in The Lord of The Rings Trilogy.
When the passion runs out of this romance, there is this dogged devotion that remains between these two women. As annoying as it may seem on occasion, it keeps you hooked until the inevitable sad ending.