In 1951 an obscure woman writer decides to take a trip—“the geographic cure,” her friend Robert “Cal” Lowell (Treat Williams) teases. And so poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy) sets sail for Rio de Janeiro and a life-changing relationship with the wealthy—and very butch—architect Lota de Macedo Soares.
Based on the book Rare and Common Place Flowers, the film opens with an early version of Bishop’s famous poem “The Art of Losing”; however, the first loser in this fictionalized account is not the poet but her college friend Mary, who is happily ensconced with Lota when Elizabeth arrives for a visit. Painfully shy Elizabeth is at first put off by Lota’s brashness, while Lota asks Mary, “How long is she staying?” An allergic reaction prolongs Elizabeth’s visit, and her relationship with Lota goes from cold to very, very hot, while Mary is relegated to the back burner.
Elizabeth blossoms in Brazil. Pampered by the extravagant Lota, she writes, wins awards, and is feted by Rio society. But problems lurk: Elizabeth’s alcoholism, Mary’s resentment, Lota’s difficulties building Rio’s Flamengo Park, and a government coup.
Director Bruno Barreto beautifully captures the vibrant feel of design-conscious mid-century Brazil; however, it’s the sharp writing, smoldering on-screen chemistry, and stellar performances (particularly by Brazilian telenovela star Glória Pires) that make this lavish big-screen adaptation of a messy, yet gloriously romantic, relationship so deeply satisfying.
— MONICA NOLAN
AT&T Audience Award Text Voting Code: F129