Frida

Flamboyant director Julie Taymor's biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), whose bold and disturbing images of pain and wonder have grown in popularity since her death, is worthy but oddly pedestrian. Though occasionally enlivened by fanciful sequences suggesting the surreal power of Kahlo's vivid inner life, it's often mired in the mechanical...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Flamboyant director Julie Taymor's biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), whose bold and disturbing images of pain and wonder have grown in popularity since her death, is worthy but oddly pedestrian. Though occasionally enlivened by fanciful sequences suggesting the surreal power of Kahlo's vivid inner life, it's often mired in the mechanical accretion of incidents that blights most biographical films. Mexico City, 1922. High-school student Frida (Salma Hayek) and her friends spy on muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), equally notorious for his socialist sympathies and his world-class philandering, as he tries to seduce a nude model and is interrupted by his fiery wife, Lupe Marin (Valeria Golino). Soon after, the vivacious Frida — whose large and conventional family is surprisingly tolerant of her rebellious and shockingly unladylike behavior — survives a gruesome streetcar accident. Already a survivor of childhood polio, Frida's spine and pelvis are crushed and her abdomen grotesquely pierced by a metal handrail. She endures a protracted recovery that includes numerous operations and long periods of immobilization in casts and braces that resemble medieval torture devices, painting to assuage boredom and explore the inner life that blossoms in the thorny soil of adversity. Frida works up the nerve to show her work to Rivera, who becomes her champion. United by passionate politics, they fall in love and marry despite Diego's chronic infidelity. The couple work and travel together, weathering the highs and lows of life in the arts and their own tumultuous relationship. She suffers a traumatic miscarriage and further operations, they divorce, remarry, have affairs and cross paths with the famous and notorious, including rival Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas), Italian expatriate photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd), American businessman Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) and aging Russian revolutionary exile Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), who was assassinated shortly after he moved out of the Kahlo family home. Hayek's performance never rises above the level of physical impersonation, but she captures Kahlo's unconventional beauty, complete with faint mustache, strong brows (not the imposing monobrow Kahlo saw in her mind's eye) and proud embrace of traditional Mexican clothing and jewelry. The film was a personal victory for the actress, who prevailed over competing projects driven by bigger names (including Jennifer Lopez and Madonna), and it's a solid introduction to the cult of Kahlo, devoting almost as much screen time to her work as to her affairs, tantrums and betrayals by Rivera, doctors and her own treacherous flesh.

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