Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Poetry, the 1950s and a rich lesbian love story: Bruno Barreto's REACHING FOR THE MOON

I'm not certain what fans of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop will make of the new bio-pic REACHING FOR THE MOON. Other than her connection to another American poet, Robert Lowell, TrustMovies knew little about this woman, her poetry or her life and loves prior to viewing the film -- which makes me pretty much virgin territory and thus more susceptible to the beauty and charm of this very well-acted movie that concentrates on what appears to be the major and lengthy love affair of Bishop's life: to the female Brazilian architect, Lota de Macedo Soares.

As directed by the Oscar-nominated Brazilian Bruno Barreto, the film (originally titled Flores raras) is glossy and gorgeous throughout and features two terrific performances from its leading ladies, the Australia actress Miranda Otto (below) and the versatile Brazilian Glória Pires (last seen here in Lula, Son of Brazil). These two women, with their moment-to-moment acting skills that allow us to see their minds and emotions at work in the most immediate-yet-detailed manner make the movie a rich watch whenever they're onscreen, which fortunately is most of the time. (Much of the remainder is worth seeing for the Brazilian flora and architecture, supposedly designed by Ms Soares.)

The women's 17-year affair is a lot to cover in just under two hours, so the movie hits the high points but without too much of the kind of constant, heavy-handed melodrama that can make many bio-pics topple into camp. Because this is a lesbian affair -- taking place in a time when anything except heterosexuality in the missionary position was unacceptable -- the movie offers an added attraction (not to mention the nostalgia factor on full display in the clothes, hairdos and set design).

How these two very different women handle the "forbidden" is also a fine hook: Bishop (American, repressed, and alcoholic to boot) and Lota (above, left: Brazilian, bohemian, wealthy and a something of a control freak) prove a surprise match made somewhere close to heaven -- for a good while, at least. (Descriptions of the film refer to the love affair as tragic, but the filmmaker ensures that the characters and we get a lot of enjoyment out of it.) The scene in which Lota quietly comes to understand that Elizabeth's initial attitude is defensive rather than nasty is so well done that this alone may hook you for the remainder of the movie.

The screenplay is credited to Matthew Chapman (yes, the writer/director of The Ledge!) and Julie Sayres, from an earlier screenplay by Carolina Kotscho, based in turn on the novel Flores raras e banalíssimas by Carmen L. Oliveira, and the final product proves good enough to carry us along and offer occasional pointed and juicy highlights. Elizabeth's sad, heartfelt but honest speech at a gathering after a political coup has taken place is one of these (Ms Otto's fierce intelligence is well-used here and elsewhere in the film).

Another plus is the excellent integration of Bishop's poetry off and on throughout the movie, which should send viewers back to the original work to enjoy and learn more. In the supporting cast, Tracy Middendorf (the blond with baby, above, playing Elizabeth's friend and Lota's lover who brings the two together and then regrets it forever) and Treat Williams (below, right, who has a cameo role as Robert Lowell) are well-used, too.

The musical score (Marcelo Zarvos) is both lovely and unobtrusive, and the cinematography (Mauro Pinheiro Jr.) should do more for tourism than anythng set in Brazil I've seen in a long while. If the film itself can seem occasionally paint-by-numbers, Otto and Pires create character canvases that are wholly original.

In all, Reaching for the Moon proves a story worth telling that has now been told well enough. The movie opens this Friday, November 8, in New York City at the Paris Theater and Angelika Film Center, and in Los Angeles on November 29 at Laemmle's Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7. You can see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here.

No comments: