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Frida (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A conversation with Salma Hayek; Feature commentary with director Julie Taymor; Feature commentary with composer Elliot Goldenthal.

MEXICAN artist, Frida Kahlo, has become one of the world’s most coveted female painters, consistently smashing international auction records, and becoming the first Hispanic woman to be honoured with a US postage stamp.

Yet her remarkable achievements were borne out of tremendous suffering as, at the age of 18, she was involved in a debilitating bus accident which irreversibly changed her life.

Frida was found, half naked, among the wreckage, bathed in blood and gold dust, and impaled on a metal rod. Her spinal column, ribs, pelvis and collarbone were shattered, her right foot was crushed and her right leg, crippled years earlier by polio, was broken in a dozen places.

The metal rod which impaled her also caused a deep abdominal wound, leaving her unable to have children.

Throughout her life, the injuries she suffered as a result of this accident constantly troubled her, and she was forced to endure long periods in immobilizing plaster casts and corsets, traction and, at times, barbaric experimental operations.

Yet her spirit remained strong and, so long as she could continue her painting, Frida frequently rose above her predicament to triumph against adversity - living as colourful a life as many of her paintings.

Salma Hayek, who has subsequently been Oscar-nominated for her portrayal of the artist, affectionately describes her ‘courage to be unique’ as one of the many things that inspired her to make a film about her life.

The movie which results, directed by Julie Taymor and produced by Hayek, is a true labour of love; a rich and passionate tribute to Frida Kahlo, which also takes in her complex and enduring relationship with her mentor and husband, Diego Rivera, as well as her illicit affair with Leon Trotsky and her provocative romantic entanglements with women.

It is little wonder, therefore, that there are times when the story feels a little episodic, or when certain key moments appear lost, particularly in its depiction of the extent of Frida’s physical suffering, which frequently takes a back seat to the emotional torment she endured as the result of her relationship with Rivera.

Yet while viewers are left with the impression that there was undoubtedly more to Frida’s life than what appears on screen, the film does succeed in paying a fitting tribute to the achievements of the artist and is graced with some terrific performances.

Principal among them is Hayek, of course, whose energy and enthusiasm for the project is unbridled. Playing down the good looks for which she is better-known, Hayek delivers a gutsy firecracker of a performance, which has rightly been rewarded with an Oscar nod.

Her relationship with Alfred Molina’s gluttonous womaniser, Diego, is suitably spiky (flitting between love and hate), while her affair with Geoffrey Rush’s exiled Russian leader, Trotsky, is also nicely observed.

The presence of big name players such as Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton in showy cameos, in truth, adds little to proceedings, although the latter is credited with helping to refine the script when Frida and Diego head to America.

But Taymor’s eye-catching visual style is another plus point, helping to infuse the film with elements of Frida’s artistic creativity and bringing much of her work to life. It is a device which helps to keep things fresh and which serves to show the inspirations behind much of her work.

Yet it is Hayek who leaves the lasting impression and who remains the main reason for seeing the film. Her energy and enthusiasm for the project translates well to the screen, making this a personal tour-de-force, and a lasting tribute to a remarkable life story.

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