2013 adaptation of the biographical novel Rare and Commonplace Flowers, by Carme Oliveira, of 2001.
“This book is based on real and written testimony. Any resemblance with persons living or dead is intentional.”
– Carme Oliveira, in the opening page of Rare and Commonplace Flowers (2001)
The film is adapted from Carme Oliveira’s accomplished biographical novel Rare and Commonplace Flowers, about the pulitzer-winning american poet Elizabeth Bishop and her partner of sixteen years, the Brazilian powerhouse architect and planner Lota de Macedo Soares. Bruno Barreto, a Brazilian director with a Hollywood sensibility, was contacted by the producers and handed the book, but he did not find it interesting enough, until he realised he could organise the material around a triangular relationship barely hinted at in the original text. Mary Morse, Lota’s ex-partner, gets about ten lines in the book, but Barreto created whole scenes for her, and gave her a pivotal role in plot developments.
Lota was part of the intellectual, artistic, and economic elite in Brazil of the mid-20th century, a gregarious and confident woman, and she offered the introverted, insecure, and alcoholic poet a safeconduct into another kind of life. Lota also built a stunning studio for Bishop, next to her own experimental modernist house on the edge of the jungle, and ‘Dona Elisabetchy’ wrote some of her best work there. Lota’s all-consuming creative energy and Bishop’s regular shipwreck-in-a-bottle setbacks, meant that the couple was constantly under pressure. But the destructive relationship that finally shook up the two women, was Lota’s doomed affair with Flamingo Park, a pharaonic project to create the best park in history, in Rio de Janeiro.
Lota conceived and directed the plans to turn a rubble dump into a park with a ‘City of Children’, a ring for model airplanes, a dance-floor, a puppet theatre, art and education pavilions, sports fields, and a beach. She fought bureaucrats and politicians like a lioness to upheld her utopian vision, as the book minutely records (without ever getting dull). Instead of this background, the film presents Bishop as Lota’s doomed once-in-a-lifetime project, and spices the story up with a few ‘hot’ scenes (absent from the book), cliched shots, and a bland sell-able title. And yet, the plot works, the actors shine, the cinematography breathes, and enough goodness remains to leave you in awe of these two women and their achievements.