Julie Taymor’s latest film, “Frida,” chronicles the life of famous painter and wife to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo. “Frida” is the story of not only an artist, but also that of a powerful woman in soul, but not body. Crippled at an early age, Frida would never be able to heal the wounds that would plague her the rest of her life – wounds that become the very substance of her work. Salma Hayek, through her breathtaking performance as Frida, allows the audience to gain an insight into this famous figure both as woman and legendary painter.
The set design and costuming in “Frida” is magical. The film opens in present tense with an old and dying Frida being taken off her bed to be loaded onto the back of a truck. Her house, like her wardrobe, is fantastical in color and design. Like that of an empress, Frida lays upon her bed staring into the mirror embedded in the canopy she used for self-portraiture. She is making a trip to someplace, but then the story flashes back to 1922.
As a young child growing up in Mexico City, Frida was proactive, sexual and insatiably curious about art – more specifically, about the art of Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). The two meet for the first time when Frida “interferes” with him while he is painting a nude. Later that day, Frida’s life would be changed in what would be the first of “the two great accidents in (her) life.” Crushed in a taxi accident, Frida would spend the next several years bedridden and in a body cast with only a small chance to ever walk again. Seeking a way to escape her minute world and perhaps vent emotion, Frida begins to paint.
After years of therapy and hardship, Frida regains the ability to walk. Older and well versed in her art, she seeks out the one man who she believes can give her the validation she so desperately requires: Diego Rivera. The relationship blossoms from that of teacher/student, to friendship, to lovers. Rivera wishes to marry Frida, but informs her that he is unable to be faithful. Frida responds that as long as he is “loyal” she will marry him. The two work and travel together and one gains a perspective of Diego’s communist politics and loyalty to Trotsky, but also his art and inability to remain a consistently good husband.
This is not to say that the story is about Diego River and not Frida Kahlo. While Rivera plays a central role in the film, likewise he played a pivotal role in Frida’s life. He guides her through the world of art and the two attempt to have a child, but Diego would do a lot of damage as well – he was both influentially helpful and harmful.
The cinematography is absolutely first rate. Utilizing stop-motion animation, painting to film dissolves, the ingenious inclusion of Frida’s paintings into shots in the film is amazing. Taymor has successfully fused the world of Frida’s art into her life and the very fabric of the film. While the story is told chronologically it can also be seen as being told as various works are created. One is able to gain a sense of the psyche needed to create such pieces and is able to understand them within the context of the film.
All of the performances work to create this past world that is connected by such players as Rivera, Kahlo, John Rockefeller and Trotsky. Mexico City, New York and Paris are all settings that one gets to see the various players react in and towards while allowing many layers to be created. Hayek’s performance and physical presence are perhaps the most notable as she plays the very young Frida, to the very old. Complete with the famous unibrow, Frida’s countenance contained, Hayek is able to convey the outer and inner beauty of a unique woman.
“Frida” moves swiftly. The pacing is quick and at times seems to lack the necessary slowing down for contemplation or development; however, it works well in retaining interest and keeping up with the action. While certain chronologies do seem to be glossed over, Taymor’s craft as director is still able to convey the idea that certain amounts of time have elapsed between scenes through the visuals. For example, while one may not know exactly how long Frida was exactly bed-ridden for as a child, or how much time passed after she cut her hair, one is able to discern a rough estimate for themselves through the visual clues given.
Frida Kahlo was a highly afflicted individual who turned her pain into art. Hers was a life that was marked by joy and suffering with the latter being dominant. Through wonderful direction, costuming, set design and performances, “Frida” takes a look at the life of this woman and doesn’t blink.