Selma Hayak paints a feisty portrait of the legendary Mexican artist who became the figurehead of a revolution and expressed her profound personal pain on canvas.
The art of Frida Kahlo graces the walls of galleries all over the world and her fans include people like Madonna who is now the biggest private collector of her work. But it’s the story behind the art that gives it such potency. And that story is fleshed out in Frida, a rich and vibrant biopic of an incredible woman who lived her life to the hilt despite a crippling injury. She was a voracious bisexual who dressed like the powerful Tehuana women of her homeland and painted like no woman had ever done before.
When we meet her, she’s a cheeky student spying on the modernist master Diego Rivera. Soon after, we ride with her on that fateful trolley that crashed, leaving her disabled and famously covered in gold paint. A strange animated sequence featuring skeletal characters from some Day of the Dead nightmare transition us across the three-week period of her hospitalisation to her new life of pain management.
One of the keys to her recovery is painting and with the aid of a mirror, her subject soon becomes her own broken body. Against all odds Frida finally walks again and one of her first visits is to Rivera to seek his opinion of her work. Alfred Molina packs on the weight to play the famous communist artist who is instantly impressed by Frida’s talent. He takes her under his wing, and soon after into his heart.
Mexico City was a hotbed of political activity in the 1920s and the radical Frida slipped right in. There’s a great party scene where she out-drinks both Rivera and his mate David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas in a cute cameo). Her prize for the feat is a sexy tango with the Italian photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd).
But it is Rivera that she adores and soon marries, following him to New York for his solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. While there, Rivera is commissioned to paint a mural for the foyer of the Rockerfeller Center which he does, controversially inserting a figure of Lenin, which doesn’t go down too well with Nelson Rockerfeller, played by Edward Norton.
Throughout it all Frida stays by his side, even after several infidelities, getting her revenge by having several affairs herself with the likes of Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky. In another memorable scene Frida and Trotsky (played by a frisky Geoffrey Rush) climb the spectacular Mayan pyramid at Chichen-Itza and share a political vision from up on high.
It’s just one of many stirring moments in this imaginative film directed by Julie Taymor who also brought us Across the Universe and the stage production of The Lion King. Taymor uses lots of theatrical lighting and magic realist touches to bring Frida’s paintings to life. She even plunders the 1933 film King Kong to illustrate her characters’ struggles.
The film won Oscars for Best Make-Up and for the evocative music by Elliot Goldenthal. And it scored four other nominations including one for Selma Hayak who also worked as producer. It’s an inspiring tale of a remarkable woman’s journey overcoming all odds to live a fiercely independent and stunningly successful life.Get NLAH