Starring – Miranda Otto, Glória Pires, Tracy Middendorf, Treat Williams
Directed by Bruno Barreto
Reaching For The Moon is based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires) and their tragic l5 year love affair set against the backdrop of Brazil during its many hostile government takeovers all the while Elizabeth is battling severe depression and alcoholism and writing award winning poetry and Lota is designing one of the most beautiful and famous parks in history and she was a woman and a lesbian doing it during these impossible sexist and homophobic times of the 1950s and 1960s.
Most of the film takes place in the rural areas of Brazil and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Mountains and forests and flowers and trees and beauty everywhere! At one point in the film, Lota blows up a mountain because the one room, glass-enclosed building she is constructing for Elizabeth to write in, faces the mountain and she wants Elizabeth to see the view and be inspired by it and write beautiful poetry. And after seeing the view, you can understand why she blew up the mountain. And it was in this glass-enclosed, one room building that Elizabeth Bishop wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning book of poetry, Poems: North and South. A Cold Spring.
The acting in this film is Oscar worthy caliber, especially Miranda Otto who is brilliant and haunting as the extremely fragile Elizabeth Bishop. This is a character that has both life-threatening insecurities that take her to the deepest, darkest places one’s mind can go to and a perseverance that enables her to survive when other, seemingly stronger people crumble. Otto balances both of these traits in Elizabeth flawlessly, a feat that could have easily been impossible for the audience to believe if Otto hadn’t been able to carry the weight of these two polar opposite traits on such talented shoulders. Her heartbreaking performance is something that you will carry with you long after the film is over.
Lota is a harder character to embrace. She is a rough soul who demands positive, loud, boisterous attention at all times, and basically she demands everyone to be just like her. When she first meets Elizabeth and shows her the architecture-wonder that is the new house she is building for herself and her girlfriend, Elizabeth quietly observes but doesn’t enthusiastically praise Lota’s work like Lota always expects or rather demands of people. Even when Elizabeth very shyly remarks on something about the house that she does admire, Lota basically says, “Too little, too late,” and I began to wonder what Elizabeth ever saw in this woman to pursue a relationship with her. And that is the only flaw I found in this film, I just never understood what Elizabeth saw in Lota, but this is based on real life and real life never makes much sense.
Lota shows her love for Elizabeth in giant, loud gestures and expects Elizabeth to do the same. At one point, like I mentioned before, she blows up an entire mountain for Elizabeth and once again, Elizabeth is quiet and shy in her wonderment of it all and Lota always wants loud boasts of praise, something Elizabeth can never give even though she tries time and again to help Lota understand this. Lota could blow up a mountain for her lover, but she couldn’t offer her empathy for her depression and alcoholism. She couldn’t give her a hug and kind words when Elizabeth is trying to explain how she wants to drink every moment of every day, it is just the bad times that offer her an excuse to do it. Lota complains constantly of Elizabeth’s drunken behavior, yet is always there to enable her addiction. She abandons Elizabeth to work on the park, yet expects Elizabeth to stay all alone in their rural home because as Lota says, “I need you,” but never once asks Elizabeth what she needs. But as much as Lota boasts and growls and act so tough, she is much more fragile than Elizabeth and it is Lota, not Elizabeth, who is fatally damaged by this relationship.
This is a beautiful film that deserved so much more attention and praise and a wide release everywhere, but it barely saw any of these things. Don’t let the entertainment world’s blasé attitude affect your need to see this film.
Fun Fact: I always wanted to see Miranda Otto play a lesbian ever since she played Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings movies because Éowyn was really kind of butchy and I always felt really a lesbian. Ok, ok and maybe I wanted Miranda Otto to play a lesbian because she is hot and I wanted to see her kiss another girl. I’m only human, you know. 😉
Footnote: Review completely revised July 16, 2014 after multiple viewings of Reaching For The Moon because sometimes you need to see a film 2 or 3 times before you can appreciate it.