Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "Prepare to be seduced."
Length: 123 minutes
"Frida" (2002) is an English-language biopic about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo that is, I believe, aimed at American cineplex audiences. The movie, which stars Salma Hayek in the title role, was nominated for six Academy Awards and won in two categories: Best Original Score and Best Makeup. Miramax is releasing a two-disc DVD set containing "Frida," and I have listed below the many extras provided.
Before I discuss "Frida" further, I think I should let you know where I'm coming from. Over a period of many years I've learned a lot about Kahlo by reading about her and seeking out her work in art museums, and I once went to Mexico City and visited places associated with her. I mention this because my reaction to "Frida" would probably have been different had I known less about its subject matter. For the first hour, the movie seemed rather didactic to me, but perhaps a certain amount of that is necessary for mainstream English-speaking audiences. In any case, "Frida" seemed to me to get better during its second half, and I ended up enjoying it anyway.
The film covers 32 years of Kahlo's life from age 15 to her death at age 47, which corresponds to the years 1922 through 1954. "Frida" crams a large number of incidents into two hours, and I couldn't help feeling the movie should have been longer-maybe in terms of drama it would have worked better as a cable TV miniseries. Still, the film has a dazzling visual style, and as spectacle, I loved it.
I think "Frida" is only so-so as a character study, but for me, the movie made up for that by being a wonderful, quirky love story. I guess that isn't surprising, though, since it's almost impossible to think of Kahlo without thinking of her legendary husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (played by Alfred Molina in the film). Frida and Diego were married for nearly 25 years, but their marriage was anything but bourgeois. Both had many extramarital affairs, and Diego even went so far as to have a sexual relationship with Frida's sister. Frida had an affair with Russian leader Leon Trotsky, and she also had sexual relationships with women. Actually, Frida and Diego divorced once, then remarried.
To my way of thinking, the best thing about "Frida" is its flair for the visual. An example of this is the slow-motion sequence where the teenage Frida is the victim of a horrible trolley car accident that left her debilitated and in pain for much of her life. A blue bird is shown flying away and gold dust showers down on her bloody body. In the hospital, Frida has macabre hallucinations of skeletal figures similar to those used in Day of the Dead observances. Later Frida and Diego take a trip to Gringolandia (Frida's name for the United States), and there's an imaginative sequence where they come to New York. There she sees the movie "King Kong" and has a dream about it where Diego plays the gorilla and she is in the Fay Wray role.
I think the big weakness in "Frida" is the screenplay. Despite the sometimes innovative visuals, the story unfolds as a conventional, rather prosaic biopic. The film feels rushed, and it doesn't allow enough time for things to resonate. Also, the dialogue in the movie isn't very good. For example, I was jarred when Salma Hayek delivered the line, "I tell him he's got a lot of explaining to do." I suppose this was intended to give American cineplex audiences a chuckle by reminding them of Ricky Ricardo on the "I Love Lucy" television show.
In spite of my reservations about "Frida," I found much to like in it. It's lively throughout, and I loved the cinematography, musical score, sets, costumes, and locations. Also, I thought Hayek and Molina were very charming in the leading roles. Given all that, it may seem churlish for me to complain. Yet, I couldn't help but feel that the film failed to get the best out of the material that could be gotten.
The DVD set comes with many extras, and I think the best is the feature-length commentary by director Julie Taymor. Actually, the bonus materials focus rather heavily on her and her significant other of many years, Elliot Goldenthal, who did a terrific job on the film's music. But I should warn you that the DVD extras don't tell you much about Kahlo's life and work. For that, I recommend reading the book "Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo" by Hayden Herrera.
Selected Special Features on the DVDs:
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