- Julie Taymor
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Thursday, September 05, 2002
The movie depicts the tempestuous love story between Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) and muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) as they first met when she was a young girl and throughout the years until her early death. Frida suffered a terrible accident as a girl that would mark her for the rest of her life. But it was her relationship to Diego that became the primary subject of the memorable life of a memorable woman.
Why is Frida a fascinating movie? First of all, it tells the story of two people unlike anything we’ve seen depicted in the big screen before. Two people who were probably meant for each other yet they loved as much as they suffered. Diego was incapable of fidelity, as he himself states in the movie, but Frida only cared for loyalty. That didn’t stop her from being jealous and angry when he cheated on her, but she wouldn’t become a victim, instead opting for following his own steps. Later in their lives they would each have their own house next to each other and only joined by a bridge. Their unusual relationship gets recreated in the movie with a lot of heat and pizzazz. It’s a story that attracts and that gets to our hearts.
Frida and Diego also happened to live in a time when Mexico was all culture and the perfect escapade for political renegades, of which Leon Trotski (Geoffrey Rush) was one of them. They themselves were Communists who supported the revolution and were part of a bohemian circle whose parties were filled with transcendent people such as David Alfredo Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas) and photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd). There’s a tango scene between Frida and Tina that is the highlight of the movie. From the music to the choreography to the camera movement to the actresses, it’s a feast for the senses.
Director Julie Taymor, who is widely considered to be a visual genius, brings her talent to the screen in unexpected ways that add a touch of brilliancy to the proceedings. From the way she shoots the trolley accident to the paintings that come to life, Taymor is able to bring as much artistic integrity to the story as Frida herself brought to her paintings. Frida put her life on canvas. She used it to keep going. She needed it to breathe. We see it, we feel it…
Of course cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto had a lot to do with the colorful look of the movie. Never has Mexico been portrayed more beautifully. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Kudos should also go to Elliot Goldenthal’s terrific guitar-flavored score. It’s surrealist, it’s touching, it’s vigorous, it’s simply perfect. There, I said it.
Biographies have a tendency to become annoying and too structured to make a compelling narrative. Salma Hayek, as the producer of the movie, always had the idea of making a movie that would transcend that. She decided to focus on the love story between Frida and Diego and she made an excellent choice. Julie Taymor and Edward Norton helped to deliver the final draft of the movie, and even though some of the dialogue is cheesy, they did a wonderful job in cramming all the memorable events in these characters’ lives and do it with a touch of wit and macabre sense of humor, just as Frida’s, without losing the intimacy and in epic Hollywood fashion.
In the title role, Salma Hayek delivers what is easily the best performance of her career. She sports Frida’s unibrow with dignity, she wears her colorful attires with aplomb, she carries that irreverent attitude and nails it to the tee. Salma’s Frida is all passion and it is that willfulness to live each day to the fullest that becomes contagious. It’s a bravura performance that establishes her as a real actress. The chemistry between her and Alfred Molina is palpable, it’s explosive. Alfred does not play Diego, he embodies him. His performance is equally powerful.
In supporting roles, Valeria Golino, Mia Maestro, Diego Luna, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Roger Rees, Geoffrey Rush, Chavela Vargas and Patricia Reyes Spíndola are all excellent.
Watch out for the final ten minutes. In my very humble opinion they’re not only good, but they reach greatness. Everything we’ve been experiencing for the previous two hours comes together and becomes something that will make your heart pound. There’s no doubt about that.
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Other reviews of Frida (2002): Jacinda
- Julie Taymor
- Reviewed by
- a.k.a. Jacinda
- Review date
- Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Frida led a tumultuous life: in her childhood, she suffered from polio leaving her with a limping leg. She was almost killed in a bus accident causing her physical pain for her whole life. She was married to Diego Rivera, the most important Mexican artist at the time, who betrayed her more than once - not to mention Frida’s numerous affairs with both men and women. Apart from being an artist, she also was a Communist who met such influential people as Leon Trotsky, Italian photographer Tina Modotti and Pablo Picasso. Despite her physical pain, Frida never gave up enjoying life to the fullest. This might be the most striking and fascinating aspect of her personality.
Frida’s art is certainly not accessible to everyone. At first, her paintings appear cruel and repelling. Once you get to know the circumstances that caused Frida to paint these scenarios, you start to love this woman and her art. Her paintings are certainly very personal and not everyone will fall for them. I guess you can apply this statement to the movie. If you see Frida as a martyr who suffered her whole life you won’t like the lively woman with the unbreakable will in Frida. But this is a general problem with biopics. Having a conception in mind leads to certain expectations. I wasn’t disappointed though – on the contrary.
I read Hayden Herrera’s biography about 2 years ago and fell in love with Frida’s art. Since then I’ve been following the production of the movie on my website FridaMovie.com. The project was destined to fail more than once. It was thanks to Salma’s passion that it was finally shot on location in her home country Mexico in April 2001. Friends like Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton supported her in the process. They all agreed on cameos to help Salma’s Frida. Her boyfriend Edward Norton even rewrote the script. As Salma said: “One of the wonderful things Frida taught me is that there are movies that are made with money and there are movies that are made with power. I made this movie with friends and hard work and inspiration and passion. I cannot tell you how much that means.”
Thus Frida is more than just another movie. It is a labor of love and certainly a turning point in Salma’s career. The filmmaking process has been incredibly inspiring for me personally. Even more so, since Miramax invited me to the world premiere of Frida at the opening gala of the Venice Film Festival. Dreams can come true after all. I did get to see the movie with the cast sitting only a few rows away from me. Salma was looking more gorgeous than ever.
When the film started I couldn’t believe it was truly happening, but soon enough I was so absorbed that I didn’t even realize I was sitting this close to Salma. I normally don’t like to give away too many details about the plot because I hate to spoil the experience for other people. With Frida I have to be more specific though.
When I saw the brilliantly directed slow-motion scene of the bus accident, I knew at once that Julie Taymor was just the right choice. The reflection of Frida’s face, the oranges, the blue bird and Frida lying on the ground covered in gold dust and blood – just breath-taking. Taymor’s surreal approach to Frida’s art draws us into her creative world. The much-talked-about paintings-come-alive scenes are not only visually striking, but also crucial for the storytelling. These scenes say more about Frida’s state of mind than words ever could. Her art is alive and breathing. The canvas is transformed into the movie screen. There are other impressive passages – for example the hallucination scene directed by the Brothers Quay, the New York and Paris scenarios. Even though I loved all of the above mentioned elements, my favorite scene of the movie is the one with Chavela Vargas. She’s a well-known singer in Mexico. Ironically enough, Chavela was once a lover of Frida Kahlo’s. In the movie, she is dressed in a black coat with a death mask on her face. She encounters Frida in a bar and sits down with her to sing a heart-breaking song. While Frida knows that her life is soon coming to an end, Taymor uses a montage technique that switches between the assassination of Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) and a real-life animation of Frida Kahlo’s painting “The Two Fridas”. This scene shook me to the core.
Even though Frida is most certainly visually striking, the performances are another crucial aspect of the movie. The supporting cast is excellent. I like the way Frida’s family is portrayed. I didn’t expect it to be too important, but it makes sense since these people were closest to her during her whole life. Roger Rees is a great choice as her father who can’t endure her pain. Mia Maestro surprises as Frida’s younger sister Cristina. She seems to have a special bond with Salma and it shows on screen. Another very positive surprise is Valeria Golino’s Lupe Marin, Rivera’s second wife. Valeria plays her as a throaty self-conscious woman who has learned her lesson in life. The chemistry between Lupe and Frida works perfectly. Their rivalry evolves beautifully into friendship.
The central characters of Frida are Frida and Diego - of course. The main problem that I saw when reading Frida’s biography was that Diego was not likeable. He was egoistic, he was constantly cheating and his way of dealing with Frida’s miscarriage was to treat her even worse. I knew the movie had to center on their relationship because Frida’s world evolved around Diego. Even though separated many times, they were together for almost 25 years. Frida accepted his behavior; they had a different approach to love than most people do. But how could you explain this to the audience? I think the kudos have to go to Edward Norton. I don’t know for sure that his work on the script is responsible for the Diego we get to see on screen, but there is a certain humor involved that I sensed could only come from Edward Norton. Diego is a womanizer whose attraction lies in his charms, his talent, his humor and his self-irony. Alfred Molina’s interpretation of this character is most impressive. He transforms himself into Diego. Apart from gaining weight for the role, he knows all the tricks to get the audience’s sympathy. I also feared that the chemistry between the “elephant” and the “dove” wouldn’t work. I was surprised how well Molina’s Diego and Hayek’s Frida fit together. Their relationship is based on mutual acceptance. There is certainly affection and love between them. Taymor handles their relationship with great empathy. One scene in particular touched me deeply. After Frida’s miscarriage, Diego is sitting in the hospital. He looks at one of Frida’s paintings and starts to cry.
The cameos add much to the all-in-all impression of the movie. Ashley Judd hits just the right marks with her lively interpretation of the free-spirited Tina Modotti. Her tango scene with Frida is most memorable due to the sexual tension between the two women. Antonio Banderas only appears in one scene. I am sure there was supposed to be another scene in which he tries to assassinate Leon Trotsky. This part was most likely cut out. I also have the feeling that parts of Rush’s Trotsky were cut. It makes perfect sense to me not to focus on the political surroundings too extensively. I know people will criticize Trotsky’s affair with Frida. They’ll say his politics were too important to only show the affair. You could certainly make 10 different movies about Frida Kahlo’s life and you would always tell a different story. This movie is not about her political entanglements though. If you wanted to concentrate on politics as well, the movie would have to run more than 3 hours. Showing these characters is important because it adds to Frida’s social background. Of course – Frida was a member of the Communist party, but I got the impression that it was where artists belonged at the time. Conflicts between Diego and the other Communists caused him to leave the party. This shows that their political beliefs were full of contradictions. In the end Frida and Diego followed their own ideas and principles. The dispute between Diego and Nelson Rockefeller (brilliant: Edward Norton) about the “transformation” of a worker’s face into Lenin is only one aspect of this conflict.
Salma Hayek is the dramatic force behind Frida. She brings Frida Kahlo to life with enormous energy that some people might not expect. You can’t help but fall in love with her. She transforms herself from the careless girl into the struggling artist. There are many other faces of Frida, Salma Hayek embodies them all. The audience gets to share the highs and lows in her life. In the end, you understand how all these events evolve most beautifully into her art. I can’t imagine anyone else to have played Frida Kahlo with such passion and lust for life. Salma Hayek is more radiant than ever. I am sure of one thing – her spectacular performance will earn her an Oscar nomination. Always present in Salma’s Frida is her longing for Mexico. Rodrigo Prieto’s (Amores Perros (2000)) cinematography captures the beauty of the country.
Julie Taymor and Salma Hayek have truly succeeded in capturing the essence of Frida Kahlo’s art - both visually and emotionally. Frida is not only celebrating the life of Frida Kahlo, it is also a celebration of Mexico.
The second the end credits started to roll the audience burst into applause. Frida received a standing ovation while the cast started to hug Salma. Mia Maestro was close to tears and so was I. I am overwhelmed that I was given the opportunity to share this special moment with Salma.
Viva la vida!
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Other reviews of Frida (2002): Morris