Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) was just a teenager when a horrific tram and bus accident in September 1925 left her physically broken. Doctors repaired her as best as they could, but it took her own determination to walk again – and to paint. Her audacious self-introduction to already renowned artist, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), became a turning point in both their lives. Her senior by 21 years, the womanising, overweight, communist Diego saw the greatness in her work and in her spirit. They married in 1929, but it was a turbulent union. They split up and married again some years later. Through it all, Frida painted her pain into poems on canvas, often surreal, always challenging, sometimes confronting. When revolutionary Russian exile Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) turned up in Mexico seeking refuge from Stalin’s deadly wrath, Diego urged Frida to take him in – at great cost in both personal and public terms.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Frida the film is as passionately put together as was the Mexican painter’s life; it is also as fraught with frailties as was her body, following the horrific accident in her youth. She lived in pain, and she lived in action. Both these elements are well captured in Julie Taynor’s often inventive film, displaying the director’s theatrical roots to great effect. But the strengths of the film – and there are many, starting with Salma Hyak’s fabulous portrayal – are undermined by weaknesses. Weaknesses the film need not have had. In particular, I am referring to the language of the film, the spoken word. This, I admit, is my special grumble about films that are based on real events: the use of English speaking actors who are made to suggest that they are actually Mexican (or Russian, etc) by feigning a slight accent. Strangely enough, Alfred Molina and Salma Hyek almost get away with it. It’s the rest of the cast that doesn’t, including Geoffrey Rush in a support role as Leon Trotsky, in exile in Mexico. His accent is so false it is distracting – and I think he’d agree. But I mention him only because he’s an Australian actor and well known to us; many others are just as distracting. Here he goes again, I hear you say, warbling on about accents, a detail that is sacrificed for the greater good of the film. Well, I think the greater good of the film is made up of a myriad details and since dialogue is one of the main vehicles for character, accents (and the sound or timbre of the voice) are crucial. But if you are less bothered by this element, and you enjoy biopics of artists, this is as good as they get. As good as Pollock or Basquiat. A trifle long, perhaps because it wouldn’t make much sense, or have the same emotional impact, without all the story-points, Frida is nevertheless accessible and (for the most part) gripping, as only true human drama can be. I’m especially grateful that the filmmakers chose to tell her life story primarily through her emotional life, not so much through her art or her medical traumas. That’s why the film provides us with ripples of recognition and insight into her humanity. Supported by some great music, design and cinematography, this is a film to feel, not to think about.
Review by Louise Keller:
A vibrantly coloured and at times richly creative bio-pic about the surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, Julie Traynor’s Frida is as much about her volatile relationship with her mentor and husband Diego Rivera as it is about her painting. Confident, sensual, unpredictable, strong-willed and overtly talented, there is nothing traditional or conventional about Frida. Always a rebel, exuding spirit and a vital sense of life, she translates the poetry of her life on canvas – harshly and tenderly, evoking striking and haunting images. Her life is indeed extraordinary and how she manages to keep a determined optimism throughout is inspiring in itself. Her setbacks are numerous, but somehow they all seem to make her stronger. While her art may be the focus, it’s the stormy passion and undying love with Rivera that is the film’s central theme. What is important to her? It’s loyalty that she asks for, not fidelity, and with the exception of one painful incident, theirs is a loyal, if not conventional relationship. Traynor’s treatment of the material is often restrained, although I love the way she uses colour and the occasional surrealistic imagery. The way Frida’s life is mirrored in her art is beautifully transposed to the screen and we get a sense of the enormity of pain and intolerable events that are splashed onto the canvass. Salma Hayek simply glows as Frida. This is indeed a performance that deserves every accolade, as she transcends from impish schoolgirl to invalid, serious artist and vixen. Hayek looks exquisite, and at a petite 5’2” is an olive-skinned doll besides the tall and substantially built Alfred Molina. Molina offers much to the role, inhabiting Rivera’s zest for living and insatiable womanising habits, with a poignant flip-side vulnerability. Frida’s bi-sexuality is only part of her complexity, but it’s her zest for life and how she expresses herself that remains at the heart of the story. There are some top Hollywood actors that pop up in small cameo roles – like Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Saffron Burrows – but for me, they are more of a distraction from the wonderful mood that Traynor has created, as we look for yet another star on the ‘Who’s Who’ of Hollywood. Geoffrey Rush leaves his mark as Russian philosopher Leon Trotsky, and the way the affair between Trotsky and Frida evolves, is convincingly handled. Stunning costumes, soul-affirming music and splendid cinematography entice us into the world of Frida, which leaves us with strong images and a portrait of a unique and vital artist.
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CAST: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Valeria Golino, Mía Maestro, Roger Rees, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Saffron Burrows
PRODUCER: Lindsay Flickinger, Mark Gill, Nancy Hardin, Salma Hayek, Jay Polstein, Roberto Sneider, Lizz Speed
DIRECTOR: Julie Taymor
SCRIPT: Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas (book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: Françoise Bonnot
MUSIC: Elliot Goldenthal
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Felipe Fernández del Paso
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2002