FRIDA (2002) 

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Salma Hayek
Alfred Molina
Valeria Golina
Roger Rees
Mia Maestro
Geoffrey Rush
Ashley Judd
Antonio Banderas
Edward Norton
Patricia Reyes Spindola

Julie Taymor





Time: 118 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance

Won Academy Awards for Best Makeup and Score. Nominations for Best Actress (Hayek), Costume Design, Art Direction and Song.

A feast for the eyes and a treat for the soul, this vibrant exposé of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo won't please everyone – much like her life and art. I can't say I'm a fan of her brutally honest portraits, but I do admire her for painting what she thought and felt without reservation. Fans of her work will most likely be disappointed by the films approach to its' subject. Hayek and company chose to focus on her marriage instead of her career, which to me seems the right way to go. Though the world now disagrees, she never thought much of her own work, believing it to merely be a release from the horrors her body and relationships threw her way. Do we not need to get inside her troubles in order to understand her work as the inner torment she was feeling? Her marriage to Diego Rievera, the famous Mexican muralist, is essential to her story, as she would certainly not have been the person or painter she became without him. Hayek and Molina truly capture the passion and charisma of these two very strong personalities. The unlikely connection between them is the spark that keeps this film alive.

Though many have complained that Hayek is too beautiful to play the often manly-looking, crippled Frida, I think she captured the spirit of the lady well-enough to be given some leeway. This is Hollywood after all and somehow I don't think Frida, wherever she is, minds a bit. If I had been trapped in those bones of pain for 47 years, I'd want someone like Salma playing me in my biopic. This is the best role of Hayek's career and she plays it with real heart, style, honor, gravity and gusto. The film follows Frida's life from adolescence to death, touching on every melodramatic moment in between. As her paintings show, her life on this Earth was not an easy one. Some of the problems she brought on herself – you get what you pay for when you marry a notorious womanizer – others fate forced her to bear. The physical pain that began with a bout of polio and intensified after a near fatal accident when she was 18 continued throughout her life, coloring the way she painted. Her expressive self-portraits were initially a diversion to help pass the time while convalescing flat on her back. They became the only way she could release the pain, anger and disappointment that seemed to continuously find her.

"I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and You. You are by far the worst."

As the film points out, her marriage to Diego Rivera was, in the end, a great joy to her and something she could not live without. His inability to be sexually faithful often put them at odds with one another, but the spiritual connection between them always brought them bounding back into each other's arms. Frida's dalliances with women apparently were not considered on the same moral plane. Maybe she was better at keeping her illicit affairs a secret from Diego. Maybe he didn't care as long as she wasn't sleeping with men. It's a strange dichotomy within Frida's psyche that's never fully explored. Was she attracted to women before her deformities or was her bi-sexuality an extension of her own distorted self-image? That's a question that goes unanswered. It takes sleeping with Diego's hero, the visiting political exile Leon Trotsky (Rush), for her to be able to strike as deep a blow in Diego's heart as he constantly did in hers.

I'm sure the reasons behind this unusual liaison between the Russian revolutionary and the Mexican painter were more than skin deep, but the film doesn't allow much time to examine their relationship. Taking into consideration her political leanings, I'm sure her decision to become intimate with Trotsky had more to do with his mind than his body. This would have been the perfect time to delve deeper into Frida's ideas about the world. Unfortunately, the film parlays their time together as more of a means for Frida to wound Diego and for Trotsky to get his rocks off, then a deepening of her character. While clearly an important interlude in their lives, I almost wish it had been left out as it doesn't reveal anything new about those involved. What it does pound home for the zillionth time is that affairs are bad. Not exactly a stunning revelation, considering we've already been watching the pain they inflict for over an hour. Trotsky's presence in their home had ramifications on Frida and Diego's relationship, so it couldn't exactly be left out, but somehow it could have been integrated better.

As portrayed here, Frida's life was one major tragedy after another. While that may be true – she certainly seemed to receive more than her fair share of pain and sadness – the constant train wrecks don't allow the character to breath and develop, to reveal how she's been affected by the crosses she's been forced to bare. There's a great deal going on behind Hayek's eyes and Taymor tries to use Frida's own works to explain her emotions. Yet at the end, despite the vibrant openness of her art, the film fails to get past the surface. More a timeline of important moments, than an indepth character study. Do I know more about Frida than I did when I went in? Certainly. Do I appreciate her art more? Absolutely. I was inspired by her perseverance, devotion, intelligence, individuality and her ability to find joy in life despite her constant physical pain. The chemistry between Hayek and Molina is electric. They make this incongrouos love story one for the ages. They give honest and passionate performances as these two very strong-willed and self-absorbed artists. Outwardly they couldn't have been more different – Frida's mother compared them to an elephant and a dove – but on the inside they couldn't have been more similar. They sought acceptance and understanding through their art and who better to really get it than a fellow artist.

Befitting the subject, the art direction and costume design is fantastic. Colorful and evocative of the time and Frida. Unfortunately, the script is lacking in the same attention to detail. A dash of subtlety and more intimacy would have made this tale truly great. More of Taymor's wacky theatrical set pieces were also desperately needed. These sequences – used to drive large parts of the story forward quickly – utilized a sort of paper doll puppetry in the style of Frida's work that was clever, funny and highly inventive. They gave the film personality and a slightly off-center spark which helped illuminate the mind and spirit of Frida. In this instance, more would have been better. All in all, while the portrait of the artist may be unfinished, the picture of the woman is a vital one indeed. Hayek delivers an emotional, intense and ultimately joyful film that touches the soul and grabs at the imagination. Frida may have been broken by life, but she was never beaten, enjoying every moment to the fullest.

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