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Reaching For The Moon – Review

April 16, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


Glória Pires (Lota), Miranda Otto (Elizabeth)

Academy Award nominated filmmaker Bruno Barreto returns with his biographical drama Reaching for the Moon, based on the true love story of American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto), and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires), creator of Rio’s Flamengo Park. Reaching for the Moon is a visual continuum of erotic elegance so boldly commanded by Barreto, juxtaposed aside a distinguished tranquil Hollywood narrative construct. Barreto makes a foreign film that is so well aligned to the axes of Hollywood’s going masses that it works so effortlessly. It’s quite simply a beautifully sophisticated romance of two empowered women who know no frontiers of love.

The film opens to the recitation of ‘One Art’ but just two verses, incomplete, merely observations broken-down into lines. The dreaded writer’s block prevents Bishop from progressing with her poem as she sits fretting with Robert Lowell (Treat Williams) about her loneliness. Barreto uses the dull hues of autumn, the soft melancholy music and the poem itself to compose Bishop’s anguish at her inner self, but quickly moves away from this haze to a picturesque wonderland, Rio. Bishop needs a trip, a geographic cure for her writer’s block so she visits her old friend Mary (Tracy Middendorf). Mary and her partner Lota go to receive an absentminded Bishop and drive back to the enchanted hills of heavenly bliss. The drive back is frantic and somewhat disjointed, much like Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless‘ opening sequence with Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Barreto relishes the beautiful landscapes of Brazil, utilising them to fill his blank canvas with depth and mystic. The rich carnival of colours heightens the romance and Barreto uses the exuberant sensualness of Brazil to intensify the poetic love scene between Bishop and Lota.

The film is based on the book Flores Raras e Banalíssimas, by Carmen L Oliveira, however, thankfully Barreto refrains from trying to cover the entirety of Bishop’s life and this allows for character development and gives it added depth. The film covers some of the significant points in Bishop’s life, like the Pulitzer Prize Award and the National Book Award, all whilst living in a tense but productive and rewarding relationship with Lota and the dilemmas of Mary. The film moves at a steady pace but struggles in its development to engage us in the romance, and also in the meticulous though process of Bishop at work, it remains distant and elusive leaving one as a mere spectator.

Miranda Otto (Elizabeth) (2)

Miranda Otto plays Bishop with conviction and with a bitterness of a double espresso, yet as time passes she begins to grow on you and her impartiality seems permissible in the heartrending climax. There simply is no other actress that could do justice to Lota’s character than Glória Pires: she is commanding, authoritative, lustful yet one feels sincere empathy towards her choices in love. Tracy Middendorf is quintessential, a delicacy of delight and yet so cliché but serves beyond her purpose in the latter half of the film. Bruno Barreto has captured the essence of Bishop’s and Lota’s love effortlessly leaving one to marvel at the cast’s strong character depiction on a backdrop so marvellously photographed by Mauro Pinheiro Jr. Reaching for the Moon is sheer elegance but yet a steady train journey that will not change the horizon or the meaning of love. It simply follows the archetype of convention.

Reaching For The Moon is out in limited cinema release on April 18th and on DVD/On Demand on April 28th

Rehan Yasin