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Film Review – Reaching for the Moon

2 min read

Based on the life of famous American poet Elizabeth Bishop, Reaching for the  Moon dramatizes Elizabeth’s passionate but destructive love affair with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares in the early 1950s. After struggling with writers block, New Yorker Elizabeth (Miranda Otto) decides to take a trip to jump-start her creativity, travelling to Brazil to stay with her old college friend Mary (Tracy Middendorf). Mary is already deeply involved in a lesbian relationship with Lota (Glória Pires), however things get complex when Lota falls for the shy, conservative Elizabeth, who eventually moves into Lota and Mary’s home outside of Rio de Janeiro. The movie unfolds over the period of their relationship, the intensity of which proves to be both its strength and its downfall as their lives become more and more complicated.

Brazilian director Bruno Barreto has created a rather strange film in Reaching for the Moon. Dealing with the weighty issues of alcoholism and mental illness, this melodrama is far from uplifting, but it lacks the emotive energy it needs to have a meaningful impact on the audience. I think the real issue is that many aspects of the story seem unrealistic, which is strange considering it is based on a true story. For example, Lota falls almost instantly for Elizabeth, causing her to very nonchalantly disregard her longstanding relationship with Mary, who on the flip side is devastated by Lota’s betrayal. The depth of feeling these women have for one another almost seems too deep, too dramatic, and too dysfunctional to be believable. The performances by the three leading ladies are fine, if a little over-done, so I would chalk this up to Barreto’s direction and the rather cliche screenplay.

Reaching For The Moon Insert

The result is a really naff film that lacks excitement and originality, and seems to take itself way too seriously. The use of glaringly obvious visual symbolism and metaphors only makes this worse. It gives the impression that the movie was put together by an amateur film student, not an experienced director such as Barreto. At 118 minutes, the film isn’t super long, but the glacial pace at which the plot progresses makes it seem a lot longer, so by the time the real issues arose concerning mental health, I had already lost interest in what happened to these characters. None of the main characters are particularly likable either, which makes is challenging to sympathise with them when their lives eventually begin to unravel. On the plus side, the cinematography and the overall look is very pleasing, which at least makes watching the rest of the movie more bearable.

Ultimately, Reaching for the Moon doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should. There did exist a poignant tale about love and loss that could have shone through, but it was dulled by the melodramatic tension between the characters and some lackluster film-making. I recommend letting this one fly under the radar.   

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