Reaching for the Moon opens in San Francisco on Dec 27 at Landmark Theatres, a film about the long term relationship between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares ( Glória Pires) from 1951 to 1967. The famous couple lived in the mountains in the estate designed by Pires on land called a Fazenda Samambaia near Petrópolis outside Rio. The locals in Petrópolis and the Brazilian intelligentsia knew about their relationship and they were comfortable in expressing their devotion.
The film directed by Bruno Barreto won the Audience Award at the Frameline 37 Film Festival. This sensitive portrait with masterly craftsmanship is well-researched with outstanding acting performances by the two leading actresses. Barreto told the San Francisco Film Industry Examiner that the film is based on Rare and Commonplace Flowers by Carmen Oliveira (rights owned by Lucy Baretto, Bruno's mother, who produced the film and had met Bishop and Soares). Other primary source material includes exhaustive interviews with key figures such as Monica, referred to as Clara in the film, the adopted daughter of Mary Moore (played by Tracy Middendorf) who was Bishop's roomate at Vassar, and the vice governor of Rio - Carlos Lacerda. The director said he did not want to make an ordinary biopic or a film about a tortured artist, and so the film is without the usual attention paid to the biographical legend and is a selective and aesthetic dramaturgy of quality.
Bishop was a guest in Brazil, a celebrated guest and poeta norteamericana who was the "Poet Laureate" from 1949-1950 and won the Pulitzer Prize for her anthology written in Key West "North and South" and received while in Brazil. Soares falls for her and abandons her lover for Bishop almost immediately. Bishop was a notorious alcoholic and Soares eventually became her caretaker. Soares is well on her own home turf in the mountains and in Rio for in New York she later learns she is no match for the lifestyle of her famous lover.
The film shows the difficulties of two people from different cultures and different professions who are unwilling to give up their national and personal identities but create an enduring relationship for over a decade. Soares was obstinate about wading through the Brazilian bureaucracy to build a landmark park in Rio de Janeiro. The ambition not only ruined her health but her relationship with Bishop who was frequently left alone. The relationship ended tragically but was an intense and passionate relationship that enriched the lives of these two gifted women. The reversal of roles is part of this reality, explained Barreto, with the alcoholic Elizabeth Bishop - a woman used to loss and the strong Soares who tries to avoid it and falls apart. Bishop's poem "The Art of Losing" opens the film and serves as the motif of this great love story.