Sometimes the lives of famous artists are as strange, tragic and beautiful as you always imagined.

Reaching For The Moon proves this to be true for the poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and her lover, the architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). Based on Carmen L. Oliveira’s book Rare And Commonplace Flowers, the film follows the relationship between the two women, which director Bruno Barreto captures with a slow and poetic tone.

In 1951 Bishop set sail to Brazil for a two-week holiday. She stayed for 15 years. Reaching For The Moon begins with Bishop as the quintessential reserved American, uptight and stiff compared to her exuberant and welcoming Brazilian hosts. Romance quickly blooms between Bishop and Lota; both of them are sheer creative forces, but as the film moves along they increasingly struggle with alcoholism and depression respectively. Their successes and failures, and their love and jealousy, become entangled in a heady mix. The opening scene of Bishop austerely reciting a draft of her poem The Art Of Losing is more foreboding than it first seems.

The nuanced performances of both Otto and Pires breathe life into their subjects: Otto is anxious, vulnerable and stately, Pires is charismatic and filled with energy. The work of an architect lends itself to film far more readily than that of a poet. Lota’s extravagant homestead and famous Flamingo Park are depicted beautifully and work into the fabric of the action. There are, however, some overwrought scenes of Otto tapping at her typewriter and pacing with manuscripts.

Overall, it is a film about loss as much as it is about love. The success of the film holds on the strength of the true story of these two extraordinary women, as well as the performances of Otto and Pires.

3/5 stars

Reaching For The Moon opens in cinemas Thursday July 17.

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