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Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) was just a teenager when a horrific tram and bus accident in September 1925 left her physically broken. Doctors repaired her as best as they could, but it took her own determination to walk again – and to paint. Her audacious self-introduction to already renowned artist, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), became a turning point in both their lives. Her senior by 21 years, the womanising, overweight, communist Diego saw the greatness in her work and in her spirit. They married in 1929, but it was a turbulent union. They split up and married again some years later. Through it all, Frida painted her pain into poems on canvas, often surreal, always challenging, sometimes confronting. When revolutionary Russian exile Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) turned up in Mexico seeking refuge from Stalin’s deadly wrath, Diego urged Frida to take him in – at great cost in both personal and public terms. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Frida the film is as passionately put together as was the Mexican painter’s life; it is also as fraught with frailties as was her body, following the horrific accident in her youth. She lived in pain, and she lived in action. Both these elements are well captured in Julie Taynor’s often inventive film, displaying the director’s theatrical roots to great effect. 

But the strengths of the film – and there are many, starting with Salma Hyak’s fabulous portrayal – are undermined by weaknesses. Weaknesses the film need not have had. In particular, I am referring to the language of the film, the spoken word. This, I admit, is my special grumble about films that are based on real events: the use of English speaking actors who are made to suggest that they are actually Mexican (or Russian, etc) by feigning a slight accent. Strangely enough, Alfred Molina and Salma Hyek almost get away with it. It’s the rest of the cast that doesn’t, including Geoffrey Rush in a support role as Leon Trotsky, in exile in Mexico. His accent is so false it is distracting – and I think he’d agree. But I mention him only because he’s an Australian actor and well known to us; many others are just as distracting. Here he goes again, I hear you say, warbling on about accents, a detail that is sacrificed for the greater good of the film. 

Well, I think the greater good of the film is made up of a myriad details and since dialogue is one of the main vehicles for character, accents (and the sound or timbre of the voice) are crucial. But if you are less bothered by this element, and you enjoy biopics of artists, this is as good as they get. As good as Pollock or Basquiat. A trifle long, perhaps because it wouldn’t make much sense, or have the same emotional impact, without all the story-points, Frida is nevertheless accessible and (for the most part) gripping, as only true human drama can be. I’m especially grateful that the filmmakers chose to tell her life story primarily through her emotional life, not so much through her art or her medical traumas. That’s why the film provides us with ripples of recognition and insight into her humanity. Supported by some great music, design and cinematography, this is a film to feel, not to think about.

DVD Special Features reviewed by Shannon J. Harvey:
Unlike the 2-disc Zone 1 DVD, this trimmed-down Zone 4 version isn’t abundant with extras. In the first commentary, director Julie Taymor (Titus) discusses her involvement in the project, Frida’s primary themes, and the difficulty in translating Kahlo’s life to film. In the second, composer Elliott Goldenthal discusses his personal journey and how he brought Frida musically to life. The third and final feature is a sunny yet superficial 38-minute Conversation with Salma Hayek. She reveals how she rallied for the film, how she roped boyfriend Ed Norton into being a co-star and script editor, and what she really thinks of Alfred Molina. 

The widescreen transfer comes across beautifully on DVD (those lush colours!), and the simple but effective extras give you a greater insight into this troubled Mexican artist’s life. It’s all pretty optimistic, but you do get a deeper understanding of both the film and the women behind it.

Published July 24, 2003

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FRIDA: DVD (M15+) adult themes, medium level sex scenes

CAST: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Valeria Golino, Mía Maestro, Roger Rees, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, Saffron Burrows

DIRECTOR: Julie Taymor

SCRIPT: Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas (book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera)

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen presentation;

SPECIAL FEATURES: A Conversation with Salma Hayek; Audio Comentary by Director Julie Taymor; Audio Commentary by Composer Elliot Goldenthal;


DVD RELEASE: July 23, 2003

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