Frida Kahlo was definitely one of a kind. A bisexual painter of
Spanish and German descent, she was injured in a traffic accident in
1922. The prognosis wasn't good, but Frida's will won out and she
defied the doctors' claim that she'd never walk again. Although she
spent the rest of her life in pain and referred to herself as "a cripple,"
she managed to emerge as a potent artist. Her stormy marriage,
divorce and remarriage to muralist and painter Diego Rivera added
to her cache. She sold some of her work during her lifetime, but like
most artists came to be appreciated only after her death. In the early
1980s, there was a flutter of interest in her again when a biography
by Hayden Herrera was published and a Spanish-language biopic
(directed by Paul Leduc) was produced.
Hollywood remained enthralled with the story, though. At one point
actress Laura San Giacomo was cast as Frida, but a protest by Hispanic
groups over the casting of a non-Latin actor in the role stalled the
project. More recently, performers as diverse as Madonna (who owns
several of Kahlo's paintings) and Jennifer Lopez were angling
to portray this enigmatic woman on screen. But it was Salma Hayek
who managed to win the screen rights to Herrera's biography. As one
of the producers and star, Hayek fulfilled her dream of playing Kahlo.
For all her tenacity, though, I wish the on screen results were more
Perhaps because it took four credited writers (including Gregory
Nava) with the screen adaptation (and an uncredited polish by Hayek's
then-significant other Edward Norton), Frida doesn't quite gel. Certainly
it's true that artists and writers, however talented and/or troubled,
don't make the best subject for film biography. Despite the drama
inherent in her life, Kahlo is no exception. The film begins with Frida
being carried out in her bed and heading to her first art show in Mexico,
then flashes back to just prior to her accident, when she first
encounters Rivera (portrayed with gusto by Alfred Molina). From that
vantage point, the film moves through the key episodes of Kahlo's
life. Despite the wonderful directorial flushes of Julie Taymor (a
puppet show of skeletons serving as the doctors operating on Kahlo,
a takeoff of KING KONG as Rivera and Kahlo arrive in NYC, tableaux
of Frida's paintings that spring to life, etc.), the film only fitfully
comes to life. This, even though Taymor and her design team
have created a visually gorgeous movie, with vibrant, colorful sets
(by production designer Felipe Fernandez del Paso) and terrific
period costumes (by Julie Weiss), captured beautifully by
cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, the limp script undercuts everything.
Yet, Elliot Goldenthal's underscore ranks as one of his best.
A big problem with the movie for me, though, was Hayek's performance
as Frida. She approximates the famous unibrow, dispenses with the
mustache, but never seems to really embody the character. While
on paper, Hayek as Kahlo seems inspired (much in the same way
that Madonna as EVITA did) it ultimately proves disappointing. She
tries hard and wears the native garb and period clothes with brio,
but somehow she fails to convey the inner workings of the character.
The viewers are left with little sense of who Frida was or what made
On the other hand, Alfred Molina is superb as Diego Rivera. His
is a lusty, deeply felt performance, filled with humor and strength.
There's nice work supplied by Valeria Golina as Rivera's former wife,
and Mia Maestro and Roger Rees as Kahlo's sister and father. There
are also cameo appearances by Ashley Judd (dancing a mean tango
as photographer Tina Modotti), Antonio Banderas as painter David
Alfaro Siqueiros, Edward Norton as John D. Rockefeller Jr., Diego
Luna as an early suitor of Frida's and Saffron Burrows as a Manhattan
socialite who has affairs with both Frida and Diego.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality/nudity and language
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.