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1 item from 2002


30 August 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The lives of great artists are notorious for their resistance to the biopic treatment. The iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo proves no exception.

While this film dutifully chronicles her suffering, obsessions and battles with her own body, it stands in pale contrast to Kahlo's real biography, which is her amazing paintings.

In development for nearly a decade, battling rival projects and studio skittishness, "Frida" emerges as a fairly convention biopic rather than the artistic statement one might anticipate given director Julie Taymor's theatrical background and actress-producer Salma Hayek's passion for the role.

The film hues closely to the facts of Kahlo's life and her tempestuous relationship with world-famous muralist Diego Rivera, her mentor and husband. Taymor puts Frida's vivid and often disturbing art to sagacious use, slipping the famous images into scenes to reflect or comment on dramatic developments. But the film somehow misses the mark, having made rather tidy a messy and brutally painful life.

As more than 100 published books concern Kahlo and Rivera, one should never underestimate the public appetite for this story. With a stellar cast -- Alfred Molina as Rivera, Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky, Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller, Antonio Banderas as muralist David Siqueiros and Ashley Judd as photographer Tina Modotti -- along with a careful rollout and Miramax's marketing muscle, "Frida" does have potential as an art house hit. The outlook overseas and in ancillary markets is even more positive.

The movie begins on the day of Frida's one and only exhibit in Mexico, in the spring of 1953. Her health has deteriorated so greatly, the doctor forbids her to leave her bed. So she has her bed carted to the gallery. On the ride over, the movie goes into a flashback. Frida, a high-school tomboy, loves to get into mischief with a gang of boys. She sneaks into a school auditorium where the great Rivera is painting.

The movie quickly moves to the trauma that shapes her life: A trolley accident in 1925 leaves her impaled on a metal rod. So devastated is her body that it's a miracle she even lives, much less that she walks again. Lying in bed for months, bored and in pain, she takes up painting. Her parents (Roger Rees and Patricia Reyes Spindola) give her a special easel and canopied bed with a mirror above her so she can be her own model. A life of self-portraiture, of painting the inner and outer Frida Kahlo, thus begins.

The story of her event-filled life understandably moves swiftly. Yet the consequence is that the movie gives short shrift to Frida's recovery and the enormous will power she developed to tolerate pain and fatigue. Clearly, the drinking, smoking and drug use that come later help her to dull that pain.

The bond between Diego and Frida is handled with empathy. Molina captures Diego's bearish personality, his huge body, his embrace of sensual pleasures and his fierce commitment to leftist political principles. In one of the film's welcome flights of surreal fancy, Rivera is fittingly depicted, in cutout images, as King Kong atop the Empire State Building, batting at airplanes as he would his critics. Molina gets the essential goodness of the man, his firm belief in loyalty and a set of principles that sometimes gets overshadowed by his many adulterous affairs, the worst being with Frida's own sister (Mia Maestro).

Hayek learned how to paint and how to effect the outer Frida -- including her wearing of traditional Mexican clothing. Other than Frida's trademark thick, connecting eyebrows, though, she has not allowed the makeup artist to de-glamorize her. More problematic is the fact Hayek doesn't inhabit her character as Molina does his. She is playing a role while Molina is Diego.

The film neither makes too much nor too little of its protagonists' wild side -- their open marriage, where they even shared lovers, or Frida's bisexuality and her affair with Trotsky, which may have cost him his life. The only sugar-coating comes near the end: It's quite possible Frida took her own life but the film never hints of this.

Rodrigo Preito's colorful and appealing cinematography, designer Felipe Fernandez's period re-creations and Elliot Goldenthal's guitar-flavored music, picking up Mexican themes, make a tight budget go a long way.


Miramax Films

Miramax presents in association with Margaret Rose Perenchio

A Ventanarosa Production in association with Lions Gate Films


Director: Julie Taymor

Writers: Clancy Sigel, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas

Based on the book by: Hayden Herrera

Producers: Sarah Green, Salma Hayek, Jay Polstein, Nancy Hardin, Lindsay Flickinger, Roberto Sneiders

Executive producer: Mark Amin, Brian Gibson, Mark Gill, Jill Sobel Messick, Amy Slotnick

Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto

Production designer: Felipe Fernandez

Music: Elliot Goldenthal

Costume designer: Julie Weiss

Editor: Francoise Bonnot


Frida Kahlo: Salma Hayek

Diego Rivera: Alfred Molina

Leon Trotsky: Geoffrey Rush

Nelson Rockefeller: Edward Norton

David Siqueiros: Antonio Banderas

Cristina Kahlo: Mia Maestro

Tina Modotti: Ashley Judd

Guillermo Kahlo: Roger Rees

Lupe Marin: Valeria Golino

Matilde Kahlo: Patricia Reyes Spindola

Alejandro: Diego Luna

Running time -- 119 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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