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Reviewed by Niija Kuykendall
Based on the biography by Hayden Herrera, Frida is a richly layered film full of the vibrant essence of its subject. Salma Hayek plays the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with the passion and ferocity that has made the Mexican artist legendary. The film is a homage to both Frida Kahlo, the temperamental, full of life-in the face of death woman; and Frida Kahlo, the dark, mythically surreal artist. The visual work is beautiful with colors and texture imagery so densely rich that the viewer feels as if the film itself was a canvas the director took a paintbrush to. The director, Julie Taymor of theater and opera esteem, does a wonderful job of conveying memory of Frida’s work using a trick bag full of all sorts of direction, camera work and editing. She guides the viewer through tragedy, joy and sharp pain on the roller coaster ride of Frida’s life with evocative lighting and production design. While, at many moments, the film does walk too fine of a line between Kahlo-induced fabulousness and over-the-top sensory overload, the viewer, even one who knows nothing about Frida Kahlo, will receive a vivid sense of the tornado of Kahlo’s life.
Although somewhat overpowered by the tremendous visual aspect of the work, Salma Hayek is an eery reincarnation of her countrywoman (at least according to our knowledge of Kahlo through books, photos, stories and, of course, her art). Her fight to get the project into existence amid industry doubt and rivaling icon-mongers Madonna and Jennifer Lopez ‘s efforts seems to mirror Kahlo’s fight to be taken seriously as an artist in a world not very welcoming to a latina communist/feminist of any occupation. Hayek succeeds in proving her right to the role, and the role’s right to the big screen, as we watch her uncanny likeness and wonder just how Madonna or Jennifer Lopez would have pulled it off. Alfred Molina is mesmerizing to watch as Diego Rivera, Frida’s famously genius husband whose political public art overshadowed Frida’s own work for most of her life. With the help of Molina, the couple’s tempestuous, painful joy of a relationship is really believable.
Once I got past the sensation of being 80% enthralled and 20% overwhelmed by the bombardment of exotic color and imagery as well as the melodramatic highs and lows of Frida’s love life and affairs, I was disappointed by the story’s lack of attention to Frida’s work and thought. The plot is focused on sensationalizing her love affairs and fits of heartbreak more so than on the mysterious thought processes and compelling mixture of politics that makes her art as gripping as it is. Her persona is entirely caught up in Diego Rivera’s character, which is a shame knowing that Kahlo’s radical life was devoted to being her own autonomous, womanly individual in a patriarchal, capitally supremacist world. Regardless of the narrative’s minuses, the movie was wonderfully intriguing for both fans and nonfans alike.
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