was a time when legitimate poets could be famous. In 1951, Elizabeth Bishop’s literary accolades
made her something of a celebrity, but she was not of a mind to assume the role
of public intellectual, a la Frost.
Instead, she sought solace in travel, getting far more than she
bargained for. Her Brazilian years are
chronicled in Bruno Barreto’s Reaching
for the Moon (trailer
opens today in New York.
with her latest verse, Bishop opts for a change of scenery. Assuming she will not stay long, Bishop
accepts an invitation from her old college friend Mary. They probably should have had a romantic
relationship, but neither was quite ready to face up to their sexual identities
at the time. Now Mary is in a committed
relationship with the accomplished modernist architect Lota de Macedo Soares—or
at least she thinks she is.
the brash Soares and the socially clumsy Bishop clash rather badly, but the
former warms to the latter as she recognizes the poet’s neurotic
vulnerabilities. Before long, they are
deeply involved romantically. Yet,
Soares is determined to maintain a mostly platonic relationship with Mary as
well. Things get rather awkward for the
pseudo love triangle, plus there happens to be a military coup brewing.
some of the best parts of Moon happen
at the margins. Treat Williams never
breaks a sweat as Bishop’s friend and colleague Robert Lowell, but his opening
and closing scenes perfectly encapsulate the essence of the film. Likewise, the film offers some intriguing
historical revisionism through its largely sympathetic depiction of Soares’
family friend Carlos Lacerda, the one-time governor of Rio and disillusioned
coup supporter (played by Marcello Airoldi, with fine understatement). Barreto and screenwriters Matthew Chapman and
Julie Sayres also incorporate Bishop’s verse into the film in shrewdly organic
Bishop and Soares simply never make a convincing couple. Still, it is not for a lack of trying on Miranda
Otto’s part. She is uncomfortably
brittle throughout, leading viewers to suspect Bishop was a borderline Asperger’s
case, whose symptoms were exacerbated by her admitted alcoholism. Nevertheless,
Otto pulls us into Bishop’s interior turmoil rather effectively. It is a showy performance, but not excessively
so in a Meryl Streepy kind of way. In
contrast, Glória Pires’ Soares basically comes in two speeds: tough talking
go-getter and bereft basket case.
looks gorgeous, bringing to mind Barreto’s
underappreciated Bossa Nova, but it
lacks the equivalent of Eumir Deodato’s lovely lilting score. A quality period production that should delight
Rio’s tourism bureau, Moon is long on
atmosphere, but the drama is a bit overwrought at times. Of course, it is all quite demur compared to Abdellatif
Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color. Regardless, admirers of Brazilian culture
should appreciate the pleasant ambiance and moments of insight (“this is how we
do things in Latin America,” Soares nonchalantly says of the coup) when Reaching for the Moon opens today (11/8)
in New York at the Paris Theatre uptown and the Angelika Film Center downtown.
Labels: Brazilian Cinema, Bruno Barreto, Elizabeth Bishop