Last weekend I created my own mini film festival at the Kinema – three movies in two days. All three movies were biographical in very different ways.
“Reaching for the moon” is the love story of Pullitzer prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares, who conceived and constructed Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro. They are very different creative people, Elizabeth shy and uncertain; Lota energetic and definite. At least at first. The background is the stunning hinterland of Rio de Janeiro; the instability of Brazilian politics; the adoption of a child; and the creative output of the two women. Lota's strength unravels when the Flamengo Park project stalls and Elizabeth leaves. She commits suicide, and Elizabeth goes on to greater glory.
There are many memorable scenes: Lota blowing up a hillside to create a studio with a view for Elizabeth; Elizabeth washing Lota's long hair against the background of an evolving poem; Lota totally involved on-site in the construction of the Park; Elizabeth chatting to Robert Lowell about her poetry by the lake in Central Park.
This is biography based on a novel based on two real lives, presented as drama, but the broad picture matches reality, insofar as such matching is ever possible.
I've encountered a sprinkling of Bishop's poems over the years in anthologies, always taking huge pleasure in their detail, vividness and thoughtfulness. You can enjoy them here
The Paris Review interview with Elizabeth Bishop is worth reading too, for her own version of her liife.
“In search of Chopin” was a very different approach to biography. It revealed plenty about Chopin's life, but through the medium of his music and his letters, as he moved from Warsaw through Vienna to Paris. A number of the interviewees and performers were Polish, and the terrible history of Poland was in the background of his life and his music, even in the twenty years he lived elsewhere. I became quite homesick for Warsaw as images proliferated of places I was familiar with: the University; the second floor apartment where the family lived; the now-Presidential Palace where he performed; the Holy Cross Church where his heart is buried.
“Once my mother” is an astonishing movie, telling a number of stories quite beautifully and heart-wrenchingly. The director and script-writer, Sophie Tukiewicz, tells her mother's story as she tries to understand why her mother put her in an Adelaide orphanage for two years. Once her mother … was orphaned at a young age; put out to fend for herself in a Polish village; sent to a Siberian work camp by the Russian invaders (one of 2 million Poles this happened to); released when Russia joined the Allies; walked 4000 km through inhospitable country and weather to Tashkent; was moved to refugee camps in Persia and Northern Rhodesia; became pregnant to an Italian POW; and was finally accepted as a migrant to Australia.
The daughter struggled with this story for many years, fictionalizing bits of it in two earlier films, refusing to understand her mother's decision to put her in an orphanage. This time she tells the story raw and complete, using archival footage, some re-enactment, a visit to her mother's birth village, photographs of herself as she moves through her own life, and deeply poignant interactions between herself and her mother as they reconcile and talk about the life that shaped them both. It's a confessional biography of two people, and an account of a vast forgotten part of history.
Sophia Turkiewicz was at the Narooma Kinema at one showing of the movie to answer questions. I didn't go that night, which I regret with one part of me. However, I was so profoundly affected by the story, that at the end I didn't want words at all, just the chance to think.
It's one of the few movies I've seen that I'd like to own. It's worth listening to two interviews Turkiewicz gave on the ABC and having a look at the movie website.