Projections - Movie Reviews

Frida Frida

Frida has strong feminist backing with Salma Hayek's passion for the lead role and Julie Taymor's visual prowess that is absorbing as it often imitates life.  The iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has an eventful short life as this conventional biopic glimpses into a woman who "paints with her heart."

Hayek, one of the producers, who went through a lot to get this made, isn't very de-glamorized for a woman who looks convincingly like the real Frida, with uni-brow and light mustache.  Hayek shows commitment to the life of the energetic, resilient woman nearly killed from a horrible trolley crash and who learned how to paint for the role.   But the spunky actress seen in Traffic and Desperado can't breathe enough dramatic life into a film more memorable for its technical bravado.

The aforementioned accident that starts a flashback look a this talented women who is bed-ridden and middle-aged is strikingly staged by Taymor.  The acclaimed director of the theatrical "Lion King," uses slow-motion, then almost glowing pictorial images to intensify the agony of the ensuing hospital experience.  It's a wonder Ms. Kahlo lived through the ordeal.

What Frida exposes vividly is her relationship with Communist Diego Rivera, a hefty, empathetic Alfred Molina (Chocolat) and later the one with political refugee Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush).  The first one is given more attention because Frida first met Rivera in college, sneaking to see him doing his nude portraits.  When Trotsky appears later in the film, the openness of a marriage has already been augmented, and the Stalin dissident is in contention with some momentum coming off of Frida's love to create art.

Taymor and Hayek have drawn a stellar cast to Frida with Ashley Judd as photographer Tina Modotti and Antonio Banderas as a competitor for Rivera.  Along with Edward Norton as liberal capitalist Norman Rockefeller who values Rivera's work before it gets too subversive, their roles are minor, though Judd's tango with Hayek touches Frida's relationship with women.

From a historical and political standpoint there is much to admire from the sharply hued lensing to recreate Mexico City and Paris.  When Frida and Rivera become the sensation of New York City, Taymor hits some eye popping, funny moments in a cut-out montage parodying King Kong.

The central performances in Frida have conviction with Hayek ranging well, though sometimes pressing, from exuberant student and ingenue to a wife whose relationships never added up to true love.  Molina has more acting qualities in making the philandering Diego natural and charming that help lift Hayek, at times, in ways comparable to Pollock.

In the background, Valeria Golino, Mia Maestro, and Roger Rees are felt as Rivera's sensitive first wife, Frida's battered sister, and Frida's wise German-Jewish father.  And how the canvas is realized on celluloid depicting Frida's personal agonies and key events are vivid, especially in a wedding portrait and a miscarriage.  Taymor works with Hayek to revel much stylish bravado that overshadows what could have been more bawdy or more insightful.  Yet, it's all a collection of expressive images that point to a sketchy portrait of a woman who, while in bed, stood tall in her only exhibition.


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