Reaching for the Moon (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Though it is slightly out of her comfort zone to travel, American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) decides to visit an old friend from college in Brazil. Mary (Tracy Middendorf) just so happens to “live with a woman” named Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires), an architect who is very passionate about her work, so passionate that she is continually remodeling her country estate in Petrópolis. The plan is to stay for three days—a long enough time span for Elizabeth to catch the attention of Lota. Three days extended to weeks and soon Mary is out the door and Elizabeth is moving in permanently.
Based on Carmen L. Oliveira’s book, “Flores raras e banalíssimas,” and adapted to the screen by Matthew Chapman, Julie Sayres, and Carolina Kotscho, “Reaching for the Moon” is a beautifully executed love story between two women who fall in love but their own personal demons are so strong that either they are not able to give themselves to one another completely or their feelings for each other are always out of synch. Their constant struggle to connect fully—without shame, without insecurities—is worth looking into.
I have trouble when it comes to writers being portrayed in the movies. They are usually shown as these strange creatures who whine a lot about their comfortable lives for no good reason. Usually I respond with annoyance; often I respond with great frustration. So it is a nice surprise that Elizabeth is actually depicted as a real human being. I enjoyed how Otto infuses small but dark qualities in her character without making her unlikeable or detaching her completely from a good person with a wonderful talent for stringing words together. This way, the alcoholism feels real in that the duality is apparent—and painful to watch—in scenes where Elizabeth is intoxicated.
I loved what Pires has done with her character. There is a danger to her portrayal of Lota because of the decision to make her masculine. But the performer does not rely on stereotypes. She uses our expectations as a template to surprise us. As a result, when Lota’s more sensitive moments come into light, we are delighted or devastated. There is no in-between and that polarity makes us want to get to know the character more.
Interior and exterior shots are disarmingly arresting. When the camera shows the beauty of the spacious estate, I wanted to jump inside the screen to caress the grass, sit on the benches, play in the water. When it shows the inside of a house or a building, I wanted to stand in front of the shelves so I can learn what kind of books the characters read, to discover the contents of the drawers, to feel the texture of the rug. In other words, a convincing version of a real life is shown on screen. It is most inviting.
However, some sections of the second half are problematic in terms or pacing and level of depth. When the ‘50s and ‘60s Brazilian politics enter the picture, there is less of an emotional pull not because the backdrop is not interesting but because the screenplay does not provide enough sufficient details for someone who may not be familiar with the history of Brazil. When politics come to a boiling point which run parallel to the couple’s emotional and psychological drainage, there is not much of an impact.
Directed by Bruno Barreto, “Reaching for the Moon” might have been better off as an immersive three-hour film. I felt as though some of its scope and depth are sacrificed for the sake of having a more digestible running time. Lota and Elizabeth are two very passionate and accomplished individuals—whether they are a couple or not. In movies that portray two people in a relationship, showing that quality with honesty is rare. Therefore, no compromises should have been made.