This week in my movie class, we saw the Brazilian drama, “Reaching For The Moon”, directed by Bruno Barreto (“Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands”) and based on the life of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop.
When a woman has a relationship with her college friend’s partner, will the three be able to maintain their unconventional lifestyle together or will it ruin the friendship for all?
In the autumn of 1951, poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) confided in her writer friend Robert Lowell (Treat Williams) that in order to spark her creativity, she would sail from New York City to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While there, she would briefly visit Mary (Tracy Middendorf), her old college friend, who now lives there with her partner Lota (Glória Pires), a brilliant and successful Brazilian architect. Upon her arrival at their sprawling estate, Elizabeth immediately gets on Lota’s nerves due to her admittedly quirky behavior. Despite Mary’s urgings for patience, Lota grows increasingly belligerent towards Elizabeth.
Feeling awkward and not wanting to further inconvenience her old friend, Elizabeth announces a premature departure, but is quickly convinced to remain. As Lota slowly gets to know Elizabeth, she suddenly finds that she is now attracted to her; Lota lets her feelings known to Elizabeth, who has by now developed a similar attraction. Lota proposes that Elizabeth stay, moving in with her and Mary and cancelling the remainder of her trip. Elizabeth consents, albeit reluctantly, as she doesn’t want to hurt her long-time pal. Upon learning that she is about to become part of a threesome, Mary threatens to leave; Lota bribes her into staying by allowing her to adopt the baby she’s craved.
Initially, Elizabeth and Lota share a rather passionate physical relationship while Mary is squeezed out of the picture altogether; Elizabeth focused on her writing, Lota on her architecting career and Mary doted on her infant daughter. As time passed, Elizabeth and Lota gradually grow apart – Lota being turned off to Elizabeth’s alcoholism and Elizabeth resenting Lota’s ambition. Lota’s career advancement was fueled partly by the potential power gained through her political connections and partly by the pseudo-celebrity status enjoyed by her association with Elizabeth, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner. Would these differences eventually drive them apart or could they rekindle their romance?
If you’ve already seen “Blue Is The Warmest Color” and haven’t quite had your lust for Sapphic cinema sated, then “Reaching For The Moon” may be right up your alley. While I have only heard about the scenes in “Blue” (I haven’t yet seen the movie), it should be noted that the scenes in “Reaching” are probably not quite as long or explicit as I am led to understand similar ones in “Blue” are alleged to be. So, depending on your own prurience, you may or may not find the scenes in “Reaching” to be titillating – my own personal caveat here is the standard, “Your mileage may vary”. Just sayin’ …
That said, there are other, more substantial comparisons that can be made between these two recent films. For one thing, the fact that this is a lesbian affair soon melts away as we can see the real issue here may instead be polyamory, which can occur just as easily in straight relationships. The fact that the individuals in question are lesbian quickly becomes irrelevant; rather, we focus on attributes common to intimate relationships of all types – jealousy, ego, selfishness, thoughtlessness, insecurity … the list goes on. The fact that the story’s characters are intelligent, articulate and well educated (not to mention somewhat famous and thus based on actual people and incidents) makes this complex romantic triangle even more intriguing. “Reaching For The Moon” is fascinating to behold both in terms of the way its story is told and the visual imagery used throughout by its director.
Following the screening, our instructor interviewed “Reaching For The Moon” director Bruno Barreto. Barreto said that the original idea for the movie came in the late 1990’s when his mother gave him a book about Elizabeth Bishop; one of the reasons why it took so long for him to make the film was his struggle with how to make Bishop a sympathetic character, especially in light of the fact that this really seemed to be Lota’s story – one that would be most easily told from her perspective. Another reason for the delay was the amount of research; Barreto learned a good deal about the relationships by reading a book containing letters between Bishop and Lowell. The theme of loss runs through much of Bishop’s work and Barreto maintained it was imperative for him to have that theme to run throughout his film as well.