Many film aficionados get annoyed with some of the celebrity life-story movies Hollywood produces today-films like Evita make it seem like anyone with a little love and tragedy in their life can get a couple million bucks for their life story. Frida, a new film about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, seems like it should fit this mold as well and though Kahlo’s life was certainly interesting, and her art has been loved for decades, nothing particularly astounding happens. The difference between Frida and the Madonna-disaster Evita, however, is that Frida is pulled off brilliantly by everyone involved.
Director Julie Taymor follows up her directing debut, Titus, with an amazing effort in Frida. The movie itself appears as much a work of art as Kahlo’s paintings. Nearly every scene is splashed in beautiful colors and characters are donned in astonishing costumes. The sets and backdrops (the movie is set in the early 20th century) are wonderful creations and Taymor directs the film in the way only a woman could – with grace and beauty, yet bold elegance.
Kahlo is played by Salma Hayek, who rivals Adam Sandler on this year’s most improved list. Hayek puts past flops like Wild Wild West and 54 to rest with a terrific performance in Frida, which she also produced. Hayek was the one who finally brought the artist’s life story to the screen, fighting studio execs who didn’t find it interesting enough to pay for. Moreover, she brought in Hollywood buddies Ed Norton and Antonio Banderas for cameos, and Norton also did uncredited rewrites on the script.
Commencing with Kahlo as a schoolgirl, running around with friends and admiring a famous older painter, Diego Rivera, the film then proceeds into the artist’s horrific accident on a trolley, which ends in many broken bones and a full body cast. During her recovery, she starts to paint and eventually asks Rivera to critique her work. The two fall in love, and, although she knows he’s a womanizer, Kahlo agrees to marry him.
They love each other at first, and even travel to New York together for Rivera to paint a mural in a building owned by the Rockefeller family. When he presents Nelson Rockefeller (Norton) with the result-a communism-inspired work-Rockefeller begs him to reconsider. Rivera stands behind his art, and Rockefeller has the giant mural torn down, ricocheting Rivera into a downward spiral, and he takes Kahlo with him.
While having many issues of her own, including outlandish political views, alcoholism and bisexuality, the pair end up divorcing. She gets back with Rivera for a short time before her death, and her last wish to have her body burned wraps up the movie with brilliant artistic style.
Frida is an arty film, containing heavy doses of symbolism and crafty camerawork. The characters seem real and have a special depth, especially Rivera, played by Alfred Molina (Chocolat). Between Taymor, Hayek, Molina and the cinematography and art crew, Frida should be a major force come Oscar time.
Shawn Wines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org