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In 1951 New York poet Elizabeth Bishop travels to Rio de Janeiro to visit Mary, a college friend. The shy Elizabeth is overwhelmed by Brazilian sensuality. She is the antithesis to Mary’s dashing partner, architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Although frosty at first, the architect soon makes a play for Elizabeth and the poet finally succumbs to Lota’s advances. Mary is jealous, but unconventional Lota is determined to have both women at all costs. Their ménage à trois is thrown off balance when Lota starts work on her biggest project to date, designing Parque do Flamengo in Rio. Elizabeth accepts an academic teaching post in the USA and the women drift apart. Lota, at all other times brimming with self-confidence, is inconsolable. This eternal triangle plays out against the backdrop of the military coup of 1964. Bishop’s moving poems are at the core of a film which lushly illustrates a crucial phase in the life of this influential Pulitzer prize-winning poet

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Reaching for the Moon movie full length review - Gorgeous, real, richly evocative on many levels

Reaching for the Moon (2013)

Wonderful! The story of the Brazilian years of the great North American poet, Elizabeth Bishop. There are so many beautiful aspects to the characters, their setting, and their relationships it's hard to know where to begin. And even better, on top of all this, is the historical recreation of the times, and the changing political climate of Brazil. It's touching and uplifting and tragic.

The original title of this is "Flores Raras" because these were indeed rare people, and doing beautiful things. And yes, they were reaching for the moon but you might rather say they reached the moon. Succeeding at something is more than literally fulfilling.

The plot has a slightly meandering, unfamiliar arc through the main events, and there are times when you think one thing and then suddenly another happens. Don't blame bad writing, but rather realize that this is how life is, and how it really was. Remember as well that these are artists of privilege at work, they have money and education and act with a kind of license and liberation that we all should feel. And so it's unpredictable.

As a kind of true insight into the poetic process you might find few parallels in the movies. You learn their temperaments, and how circumstances make the artist and the poet come to their best. The intimate circumstances are about love, a really true deep love that grows between these two women. Their professional needs reinforce and conflict with their personal needs, but they make it work.

The outside circumstances are hard to understand from 2014. Brazil was once a very different country, filled with far more freedom and sense of liberation. (This seems to be a direction that are pointed in again, though going through fits and starts.) But the world in post-War Brazil was one of possibility. It was a haven (not just for ex-Nazis) and a growing "New World," but it was also stuffed with poverty (which the movie ignores), a legacy still at hand.

And this is exciting stuff. The movie moves mostly through the confines of their big, gorgeous estate in the hills, but it also shows us the city, and the larger world. So Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares, an important architect of the era. grow and suffer and see their world fall apart around them (Brazil fell under dictatorship in the mid 1960s). It's filmed with utter beauty, the acting is sharp and convincing, and the writing (not surprisingly) is fluid and tight. Great stuff.