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Reaching for the Moon: The Love That Now Dares Speak Its Name

I really liked this movie, mainly because of its unusual characters based on actual historical figures. Directed by Brazilian Bruno Barreto, Reaching for the Moonis a biopic about Pulitzer Prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (Aussie actress Miranda Otto, who played Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings series). Treat Williams portrays another Pulitzer Prize winning giant of the poetry world, Robert Lowell -- although he only has a cameo role. That’s because this film focuses on the long lasting affair between Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares (Brazilian actress Gloria Pires, who appeared in another biopic, 2009’s look at Brazil’s lefty president, Lula, The Son of Brazil). As breakthroughs in same sex marriage continue to make headlines, this tale of a lesbian romance that began back in 1951 is especially timely.


The script by Matthew Chapman, Julie Sayres and Carolino Kotscho, inspired by Carmen Oliveira’s novel Rare and Commonplace Flowers, has what this critic considers to be a hallmark of good writing: Lots of twists and turns the viewer doesn’t see coming. Succeeding sequences serve to explain previous scenes. The film opens at Central Park, but soon Bishop is on the road to Rio de Janeiro, where events conspire to keep her there for decades as she encounters Lota.

No frail lotus blossom, Lota is arguably the biopic’s most interesting, original character, and throughout this two-hour feature your mystified reviewer continued to change his evolving opinion of her as Lota’s character developed. On the one hand, Lota is an out of the closet lesbian in the Catholic, Portuguese-influenced, patriarchal Brazil of the 1950s. On the other, she is a charter member of the ruling class, so despite her sexual preference she is used to getting her way. After all, if wealth is our international language, then money talks -- no matter what one’s sexual preference is.

It’s interesting that Lota’s lesbianism is not made much of in Brazil, nor is her ensuing affair with the far more repressed, secretive Bishop. This seems true both when they are at Lota’s modernist refuge in the Amazon jungle or staying at her posh penthouse in Rio. There is lush, sumptuous cinematography by Mauro Pinheiro Jr. of the tropics, Copacabana Beach, Sugarloaf, etc., and the degree of acceptance of the screen couple’s Sapphic sexuality and same sex relationship from the 1950s through the 1960s is indeed eye opening, especially considering how they most likely would have been treated in the staid U.S.A.

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It’s interesting to note that currently another great American writer -- Glenn Greenwald, that fierce champion of civil liberties who brought Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA über-snooping to the world’s attention -- is an expat who has left America to live in Brazil with his male Brazilian lover. Perhaps Brazil is ahead of the supposedly “advanced” United States?


This critic has no idea how historically accurate this biopic is, but according to the movie Bishop chafes under the rule of the military junta that overthrows the democratically elected Brazilian government in 1964. As a charter member of the land owning elite Lota’s position is different, and it’s interesting to see how political events shape the lovers’ lives.

Director Barreto helmed 1997’s fact-based Four Days in September, which starred Alan Arkin as a U.S. diplomat kidnapped by the MR-8 “terrorist” group, which supported armed resistance to Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship (which, BTW, tortured Brazil’s current President, Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla, who is currently fighting against the NSA surveillance of her which Snowden revealed). Barreto also directed the popular 1976 erotic ghost comedy Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and along with Mirando Otto attended the private screening for Moon. His pithy introductory remarks put his finger on Moon’s message, saying: “This is a love story.”


Indeed, straight, gay, trans or whutevah, love is what inspires the poet in all of us -- whether or not we’ve won Pulitzers -- and makes the world and moon go round. Reaching for the Moon is an absorbing, insightful psychological drama with political overtones which won an OutFest Audience Award and is one of the year’s best movies about the love that now does dare speak its name.

ed rampell

Reaching for the Moon reached L.A. theaters November 29.

The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book", published by Honolulu's Mutual Publishing, has just been released (see: