"Frida "
Director: Julie Taymor
Kimberly Nichols

In the biopic Frida, Salma Hayek plays renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, first as a little girl running through town in her parochial school uniform; then as a feisty and unruly child who wears men's suits for the family portraits. A girl who fucks her childhood boyfriend in the family home closet while her mother and sister do the traditional thing of chopping vegetables and cooking tamales in the kitchen courtyard. She is a girl who hides in between the seats of an empty auditorium to watch Diego Rivera seduce one of his naked woman models. A girl who manages to let her feelings of revile for the fat, old pervert -- hold hands with her feelings of admiration and envy for the male artist who embodies the life she hopes to lead as an adult woman.

Frida Kahlo was known as much for her rich and gory self-portraits as she was for the early childhood scrape with death through an accident that landed her in a steel brace cage her entire life. This same accident and the subsequent physical turmoil became an emotional inspiration for much of her self-portraits and masterpieces. She was known as much for her inflamed love affair with husband, lover and sometimes enemy Diego Rivera, as she was for her occasional bisexuality and her affair with Russian exile Leon Trotsky.

Salma Hayek was mocked by critics prior to the movie's release as being far too pretty for the part of the homely artist whose beauty stemmed largely from the ornamentation of her flaws. But after seeing the movie one realizes that Selma, who let her own eyebrows grow and her celebrity stature slink behind a hardened jaw and a limp, is the ONLY person who could have played Frida. Selma's determination to play the role has been widely noted in the press. Largely stereotyped by Hollywood measures as the beautiful and sexy starlet, Selma managed to get past that pigeonhole much like Frida herself bypassed the pigeonhole of being handicapped by turning her physical shortcomings into magnificent expressions on canvas.

Throughout the film, we see much of the way that Frida's paintings were a direct link from her heart, her head, her spine, and her vagina to the world. We see how her paintings became the mouthpiece for her experience from behind and within a shattered set of bones. We are touched by this at many times in the film when Julie Taymor makes magical-realistic jumps from images of Frida's paintings that suddenly become alive to release the artist from within their confines.

Alfred Molina plays a robust Diego Rivera and finesses the nuance between a lecherous pig and seductive artist perfectly. And Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, and Antonio Banderas fill in supporting roles that perfectly complement the piece and atmosphere of Mexico in a time when workers were banding together with artists and writers to explore socialism.

Amid all of this chaos, Frida and Diego fall in love; a love they navigate on their own terms. Frida answers Diego's infidelities with rage and her own affairs with women. The same hearts that bitterly battle each other are the very hearts that inevitably link them together with an understanding and respect for each other's autonomy. It becomes a love/hate relationship that is sustained until Frida's death. Honest about his cruel nature, and honest about her inner pain, Diego and Frida become the quintessential lovers and at one point in the film Diego draws a portrait of them: Frida as a dove sitting on the head of Diego the frog.

Refusing to fall beneath Diego's shadow, and determined to stake her own claim from an inner world roiling with social, physical, mental and political turmoil, Frida embraces a life much like Diego's where pain and passion dance side by side, often joining to produce phenomenal art.

As hungry as the poverty-ridden and corrupt Mexican political and geographical landscape, Frida turns the barren nature of her wounded spirit and soul into a vast trough in which to collect life in all of its illustrious nature.

During one early scene, Frida drinks with Diego, grabbing shot after shot of tequila, and belts out a traditional Mexican song with the old wrinkled men in a bar. Clunky glass goblets on the verge of breaking and spilling wine, a country consistently on the edge of political corruption, worms in the bottle of tequila, bright skirts and tops hiding a broken body, loud music from the lips of drunks, celebration amid the dirt. Frida and her art are as much a part of Mexico as Mexico is a part of her heart. Later in the film, as her artistic success draws her to travel, her imagery, politics, and persona continue to connect and call her back toward her home.

When one walks from such a wounded place, such a shattered foundation, it¹s vital that they cultivate the strength necessary to compensate for the fragility. Embracing both her weakness and strength, Frida catalyzed an expression that touched everything around her.

Frida's art renown extended out of Mexico, throughout the United States and Europe, and onto the cover of Vogue, read by women starving for her colorful zest, her royal décor, her rebelliousness, her sexiness. But the movie manages to probe deep into the psyche of Frida Kahlo leaving the fashionable behind. This is not a movie about the glamorous, neurotic and free-spirited life of the uninhibited artist. It is a carefully constructed look, directed aptly by a female, Julie Taymor, at an unconventional woman who managed to walk through her wounds to establish a personal integration of truth and experience. And because of this, she emerged a legend.

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Copyright Web del Sol, 2003

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