This was a film I happily stumbled across not too long ago on my Netflix queue. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t on my queue it was on my boyfriends, filed under, “Foreign Period Film with a Strong Female Lead”. (My queue reads more like the ramblings of a spooked old pensioner with a morbid curiosity in forensics and the criminal justice system)… I digress.
The story romantically envisions the life of American Poet Laureate Elizabeth Bishop on her visit to Brazil in the 1950’s and her subsequent love affair with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. What began as a short vacation turned into a permanent residence spanning 15 years, and after watching this film, I really can’t blame Bishop for staying as long as she did.
Cavanellas Residence in Petropolis, Brazil.
In reality, the movie was shot on location at the Cavanellas Residence in Petropolis, Brazil. Designed by famed modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, the setting closely resembles de Macedo Soares’ actual home, which was designed by another famous modernist contemporary; Sergio Bernardes.
Top: Lota de Macedo Soares House by Sergio Bernardes. Bottom Right: Cavanellas Residence by Oscar Niemeyer
Bishop begins the movie as an awkward character. Cold and distant she has hit a creative wall. But before you know it, in one of those, “just go with it” sequence of events, she falls in love with her no nonsense architect girlfriend and moves in full time. Soon de Macedo Soares is designing her a writing studio, where Bishop writes and drinks, and broods, and drinks some more. Did I mention, she’s kind of an alcoholic?
Flamengo Park , Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Designed by Lota de Macedo Soares
The story also chronicles one of de Macedo Soares’ most notable accomplishments, the building of Flamengo Park, a public park that connects Rio to the beaches of the Copacabana.
In Rio, we get a glimpse of their fantastic apartment, which is filled with notable period designs including Saarinen dining chairs and a Sergio Rodrigues bench. Their apartment is a wonderful study in mid- century Scandinavian and Brazilian design.
SPOTLIGHT: Brazilian Furniture
Many of Brazil’s most notable designers turned their attention inward and began designing furniture that was specifically suited to Brazilian needs.
Brazilian furniture is notable for its use of local woods like Jacaranda, and for its decidedly space age lines. The Brazilian modernist period from the 1940’s to the 1960’s was a time of great change and economic growth. Many of Brazil’s most notable designers turned their attention inward and began designing furniture that was specifically suited to Brazilian needs. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in Brazilian Designs. Many of these pieces of furniture are finding new homes in the US through sites like R and Company and 1st Dibs.
I won’t spoil the end, but Reaching for the Moon is definitely worth a gander. It also has the notable distinction of being that rare film about the creative process, and the lives of artists, that didn’t have me rolling my eyes out of my head. Check it out next time you’re in the mood for a “Strong Female Lead” and a heavy dose of dreamy mid- century design.
Space/Composition is an ongoing series highlighting outstanding Set Design and Cinematography in Film. By Leo Cesareo