star2 star1 star1


 Director: Julie Taymor

Writers: Clancy Sigal based on the book by  Hayden Herrera

Main Cast:
Salma Hayek – Frida Kahlo
Alfred Molina – Diego Rivera
Geoffrey Rush – Leon Trotsky
Ashley Judd – Tina Modotti
Antonio Banderas – David Alfaro Siqueiros
Edward Norton – Nelson Rockefeller
Valeria Golino – Lupe Marín
Mía Maestro – Cristina Kahlo
Roger Rees – Guillermo Kahlo
Patricia Reyes Spíndola – Matilde Kahlo
Running time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R

Year of Release: 2002 

To sum up: 
It's the Roaring 20's and one of the one's to roar the loudest was famed Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.  

“You have to trust a complement as much as a critique.”


         I got into critiquing because friends of mine heard me opine so often about films that they said I should create my own film criticism website. I told them I wasn't qualified. They replied that I've got an opinion and if Joel Siegel can do it, anyone can ("This film is on the big screen! I loved it!"). Well, obviously, it's not that simple. And it is films like this that really illustrate that, sometimes, I am not equal to the task.

        Other critics will no doubt fill their reviews with platitudes of awe and grandiose adjectives to describe the import of Frida's work and her place in art history. Well, since I'm not able to be cultured in all places at once, I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about Frida Kahlo. In truth, I had never even heard of her until the buzz for this film started. I'm not an art expert. But one of the great things about film is that it can introduce a new idea, point of view, or person you've never encountered and encourage you to look more deeply into the subject for yourself.

        A family gathers for a portrait. They are dressed in their best clothes and restlessly waiting for the last person so they may take the picture. In comes Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) clad in a very smart man's suit. Her mother rolls her eyes in embarrassment. A smile plays across the lips of her father. I get the impression that this is one of the main reasons he loves Frida.

        Frida, the famous Mexican artist who sadly, as noted above, I've never heard of. Frida the bold. Frida the ironic. As portrayed in the film, Frida grabs life with both hands and lives how she sees fit; this in spite of the pain that this life brings. She's involved in a traffic accident that leaves her scarred and in pain for the remainder of her life. Later she falls for and marries Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) famed artist, mentor, and Communist. He is a brilliant artist yet, at times, a shallow man; unable to keep his eyes or his hands off of other women. Frida knows this and plunges into the relationship anyway. They are both surprised at the depth of their feelings for each other.

        The film has, in my opinion, two very strong performances. One is obviously by Salma Hayek. I've watched her in a number of films and this is some of the best work by her that I have seen. She pours her heart into the role and gives an impressive performance. It's an unflinching portrait; covering the more conventional aspects of her life, her art, to the more controversial, her bi-sexuality and affair with Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush).

        More impressive to me, though, was Alfred Molina's Diego Rivera. He's amazing to watch. He travels through all levels of emotion and brings to life a complicated individual and artist. Watching his growing infatuation of Frida blossom to the point of a passionate, loving need was fascinating. I was enraptured by his performance. Though it is clear that one cannot approach a biography of Frida Kahlo without covering Diego Rivera, so tied together they were, I was, at times, wondering just who's movie this was.

        Also good is Valeria Golino as Diego's ex-wife. With her rejected jealousy for Diego and knowledge of who he is, she and Frida form a strong, unlikely friendship. Sadly, the remaining performers such as Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, and Antonio Banderas amount to little more than cameos.

        What the film is lacking is more of a focus on what made Frida famous in the first place, her art. It's shown throughout the film. It's clear that she produces from her soul, unafraid of controversy, using her art as an outlet for her pain. The pain of her bus accident. The pain of her miscarriage (a scene and it's affect on Diego that was devastating to watch). But it appeared to take a backseat to the "As the World Turns" events of her love life.

        We know her work is good. She's told several times by several people, though she doesn't believe it. We don't learn when she started, how she learned, who besides Diego influenced her, and how it became popular. We just hear that she gets a show in Paris and eventually Mexico. More time is spent on Diego's trip to the United States to paint for Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) and the repercussions of that trip than on the blossoming of her popularity. Since this is what she was known for, I would have liked more time to have been spent on these issues.

        It's not always about art, but still, you might like.


(2002. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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