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Miranda Otto stars in a spectacular lesbian biopic
Jul09

Miranda Otto stars in a spectacular lesbian biopic

CREATED ON // Wednesday, 09 July 2014 Author // Colin Fraser

Miranda Otto stars in Reaching for the Moon, a true story based on the relationship between a famous poet and a Brazilian architect in the 1950s.

In 2014, having two Mums might still be kind of edgy, depending on your postcode. What then if you've got three Mums, one is a ground breaking architect, another a famous poet, it's the late 1950s and you're in Brazil. Explain that to your neighbours (or therapist).

This is one of the backdrops to Bruno Baretto's romantic drama, the evocatively titled Flores Raras (Rare Flowers, though sadly anglicised to the more obvious Reaching for the Moon). Not that the film delves into the quandary of same-sex parenting (although it would be a fascinating sequel), this biopic concentrates on the quandary of same-sex relationships between two women when a third upsets an immaculate lifestyle in the Brazilian countryside. That third was the introverted American writer Elizabeth Bishop, a nervous woman who catches the eye of the formidable Brazilian designer Lota de Macedo Soares. At the time she was partnered with their mutual friend Mary Morse but before you can say 'let's play house', Bishop had moved in, Morse was raising Soares’ adopted child, Bishop then became an acclaimed poet and Soares had built Rio's magnificent Flamengo Park.

Of course, poetry had a greater currency mid last century. Despite her relative popularity at the time, Bishop is virtually unknown today except by anyone noodling in the side bars of literary circles. Soares fared little better, with a 'teeny-tiny plaque' in a quiet corner of Rio's now emblematic park. Yet it was the courage with which these women faced the world that appealed to Baretto, and to Australian actor Miranda Otto. Aside from the obvious appeal of filming in Rio, it was a combination of the women's story plus post-war Brazil that excited Otto.

Watch the trailer for Reaching for the Moon

On the line from LA, she says she feels roles this interesting don't come along often. “You don't run into poets much these days,” Otto says. “All the women are such intense characters: strong, full blooded, and complicated. Not only with each other but their relationships with their work. It was all so fascinating.” Set in a world on the cusp of cultural revolution, there were things about Rio in the 1950's that she found 'more modern than living in New York'. “Architecture, aesthetics, music – they were at the forefront of what was happening. The fact that she [Bishop] could find sanctuary there was very modern.”

The daughter of actor Barry Otto and sister of filmmaker Gracie Otto, Miranda Otto shares a passing similarity with Bishop, as an artist who finds difficulty in self-promotion. For despite having worked with Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and most recently Tommy Lee Jones, Otto seems destined to remain one of our best kept secrets. “I'm more introverted than extroverted,” she once shrugged.

“After Lord of the Rings I could have gone to Hollywood… but I always found it hard to see myself in that way. I struggled with that fit, and maybe it was my way of trying to stay grounded in a crazy industry. I don't know. There were opportunities but I backed off where others might have stepped up,” she laughs. “Do I regret it? Umm… not really… no. No.”

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Although Otto may not savour the international recognition of a Rose Byrne or a Naomi Watts, she's not exactly scraping for work either. The actor recently brought her family back from America where she'd been working on the US adaptation of Rake, as well as Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman which was in competition at Cannes. Walking the festival's celebrated red carpet “was very exciting. The lights, the music, the level of ceremony is very, very special. It's kind of like the high church of auteur film. It's very emotional.” Yet there's a sense she was still playing down her excitement in what seems her typically unassuming way.

It's one that probably made her connection to Bishop stronger, more effective. Otto's terrific performance is boiling over with creativity on one hand while suppressing her character's emotional resonance with the other. It's not an easy trick to pull off. “I thought there were a lot of things in myself that I could use and amplify,” she says. “Elizabeth was not a performer, she didn't enjoy large groups of people and certainly didn't enjoy performing her work. It was written, witheringly, on her school report card that she was ‘born to be a poet’.” It makes you wonder what was written on the card for Miranda Otto.

[Images] Miranda Otto (Elizabeth Bishop) and Gloria Pires (Lota de Macedo Soares) in Reaching for the Moon.

Reaching for the Moon is released in Australia on 17 July. For session times and locations, go to the Palace Cinemas website here.

Miranda Otto will be on hand for a special Q&A Sydney screening of the film at the Palace Chauvel Cinema in Paddington on July 14 at 6.30pm.

Thanks to Palace we have 5 double passes to the screening to giveaway. Enter here.

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Colin Fraser

Colin Fraser

Since he was knee high to an existential student of kung-fu, Colin Fraser has been bewitched by movies and has spent more time in darkened rooms than is good for anyone. Film festivals in London, Venice, Cannes, Sydney, Melbourne may sound like a tour t-shirt but it's a dirty job (sit through Meet The Spartans and you'll know what we mean), and someone's gotta do it.

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