Pessimist meets optimist and falls in love in this story inspired by the real-life longterm relationship between uptight, melancholic American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Aussie actress Miranda Otto) and thrusting can-do Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). Escaping from New York, Bishop travels to Brazil in 1951 to catch up with her old college pal Mary (Tracy Middendorf), then Soares’s live-in partner at her self-designed modern residence outside Rio. But lightning strikes, and a complicated triangular relationship emerges.
That forms the substance of this classy, grown-up drama: poet and architect both take creative and romantic sustenance from their ongoing affair, the latter realising the Pulitzer-winner’s fragile self-confidence and insistent boozing spring from a deeply traumatic childhood. Veteran Brazilian director Bruno Barreto gives the characters plenty of room to breathe, so drawing us into their gnarly conflict. Yet the film never works out how to generate genuine dramatic fire from its material. There are convincing performances and decorative retro detail to admire, but the heart needs to beat just that bit faster – and it doesn’t manage that.