Frida review

:. Director: Julie Taymor
Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina
:. Running Time: 2:00
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: USA

Far from being a mere vanity project for Salma Hayek, Frida is a very good film that visually celebrates the life and art of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Director Julie Taymor has taken a rather straightforward bio of an exceptional figure and created a kaleidoscope of her life's greatest hits onscreen.

In the last decade Kahlo's popularity as an artist has exploded and her paintings are more recognizable than Diego Rivera's murals. What is it that's so resonant of both her life and work? To say that she was able to communicate the pain and suffering of her life onto the canvas is not nearly enough. Lots of artists suffer (or like to be seen as long-suffering), but that doesn't make people wild for their work or the work particularly compelling. Kahlo was her own muse and painter. She painted and interpreted herself and didn't spare any gory details in the process. Her body of work was about her body of pain.

The film covers the basic chronology of Kahlo's life. From her wild youth to the trolley accident that changed her life and left her bedridden in a body cast for months, to meeting and marrying muralist Diego Rivera and the joys and sorrows of their union and work, those familiar with Kahlo's life won't be taken by surprise. It's how Taymor has filmed her life that gives the film an extra edge. The trolley crash is filmed almost as a religious moment from which Kahlo awakes broken and reborn. And the hospital surgery is performed by Day of the Dead skeletons chattering away. When Kahlo and Rivera go to New York, we see them traipsing through a series of postcards. Rivera is transformed into King Kong and through this metaphor we see his rise and fall in New York.

Taymor also makes the paintings the focus of the picture. As in Goya in Bordeaux, the paintings come to life and intertwined in them is Frida. Her family, her surgeries and suffering, her life with Diego; everything comes out in her work. And for once, Hayek's body isn't used gratuitously. Rather, her nudity shows her will. Along with more than one sex scene (with women, with Trotsky, with Rivera) that demonstrates her passion for life, there are also many scenes of her excruciating treatments and operations Taymor takes special care not to exploit her suffering for audience sympathy. In one scene when a cast is finally removed, we see white powder covering the breasts of a young woman obviously ready to resume the pleasures of life.

Of course one of the main themes of the movie is the love between Kahlo and Rivera and how they remained loyal to each other though not without a heavy dose of suffering. Their relationship was obviously complicated by Rivera's infidelities, though Kahlo herself had numerous affairs. Apart from their marriage, Taymor also shows that the life of a female artist is obviously not that of a man's. Her work was almost secondary for many years, as she was first a wife who cooked and cleaned and followed her husband wherever he was hired to work. Of course she was also a wife who drank in cantinas and held her own ground when it came to sexuality.

Overall the acting is good. Hayek gives an honest, heartfelt performance and makes her Frida bubble with life and passion despite both mental anguish and excruciating pain. To her credit, she doesn't indulge in Ed Harris Pollock rages. As Diego Rivera/King Kong, Alfred Molina captures what must have made Rivera so appealing to women and quietly steals more than one moment, which is important as Kahlo long lived under his shadow. Valeria Golino stands out as Rivera's former wife Lupe Marín who never quite leaves the picture. Her "been there, done that" gaze throughout the move is heartbreaking as she struggles to maintain dignity and guide Kahlo through the joys of being a philanderer's wife. Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas, Ed Norton and Ashley Judd have cameos as Leon Trotsky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Nelson Rockefeller and Tina Modotti respectively. Only Judd is truly miscast as the great Italian photographer who made Mexico her home. While the scene where Judd and Hayek act like a pair of felines rubbing against each other in a dance is great eye candy, she does no justice to Modotti and would have been better off playing one of Kahlo's anonymous lovers. In a funny aside Diego Luna, who masturbated poolside to Salma Hayek in Y Tu Mamá También, here gets to play her college boyfriend.

Something always has to be sacrificed in a bio pic and unfortunately Kahlo's time in Paris is not further elaborated. While in the film we see her writing a few postcards and sleeping with a few men and women, so much more happened during this time. Surrealist Marcel Duchamp prepared an exhibition entitled Mexico that featured her work along with photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Kahlo also met and/or spent time with Breton, Picasso, Kadinsky, Ernst, and Miró among others. Taymor could probably do an entire film on this period alone.

The night of screening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, there were several protesters who said that Hayek did not hire enough Mexicans for the film and that neither Molina nor Banderas, as Europeans, should be allowed to play Mexicans. Also, the film should have been in Spanish. One: merely reading the end credits shows the plethora of Spanish names involved in this production, though maybe there was an odd Argentine or Honduran working on the set. Also, Kahlo herself was not 100% Mexican—her father was European, so were they supposed to find a Mexican born actress with a Jewish father to play Frida? Banderas is hardly a modern day conquistador slaughtering indigenous people and it's unfortunate that the film can't be supported for what it is. Mexico in the 1930's brought artists and intellectuals from all over Europe and the U.S. And, as Hayek rightly pointed out at the showing, the first language of the film is visual—the messages are conveyed without spoken language. To have a bigger budget, to hope for a better chance of distribution, to have more people see the film means in English, at least for now. Of course, if any Italians are pissed about Ashley Judd, I certainly empathize.

Julie Taymor's Frida won't be forgotten any time soon.

  Anji Milanovic

     Frida Kahlo and Mexican Art Feature
     Frida Kahlo and Mexican Art
     Frida Kahlo & Art in Mexico: Recommended Reading
     Movie Reviews: Mexican Films
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