"Reaching for the Moon": How the Privileged Screw up Love

The first woman-on-woman kiss occurs in the first 20 minutes of Bruno Barreto's film, and it's a casual, tossed-off thing, not treated as momentous or taboo-shattering. It's the way of life on the Brazilian estate where American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) comes to stay with her college chum Mary (Tracy Middendorf) and Mary's partner Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires), the architect who gives Bishop the welcoming kiss. Claire of the Moon, this is not; Reaching for the Moon's characters are not tortured by their lesbianism (though it's noted that Mary's parents have disowned her), and Barreto is more concerned with the dynamics of mid-20th century bohemianism, the pains and pleasures of having multiple partners, and that implacable human need to want more than you have. It's a love story about all the ways people can screw up their relationships, even when they seem outwardly privileged; certainly, Bishop's incessant boozing doesn't help matters, nor does winning the Pulitzer for a book of poems seemingly written mostly while wandering the lush grounds of Lota's estate. As Bishop puts it in the poem "One Art," the creation of which bookends Reaching for the Moon, the art of losing isn't hard to master — and whether you're straight, queer, or other, hardly matters.

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