This movie is an artistic biography of the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, directed by Julie Taymor (Across the Universe), starring Salma Hayak as Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her famous husband, the painter Diego Rivera. Despite Frida’s personal tragedies and short life, her story is one of dogged perseverance.
Born in 1907 near Mexico City, Frida suffered from polio as a child and survived a horrific bus accident as a teenager that left her in pain for the rest of her life. Her marriage to Diego Rivera was difficult – both of them had multiple affairs and divorced once before remarrying. Despite the infidelity, their love story is touching.
As far as I can tell, the movie is quite accurate historically. Although the style of the movie takes a somewhat plodding approach to depicting such a turbulent life, Salma Hayak does an award-winning job of portraying the vivid personality of her role. (I was strongly reminded of Winona Ryder’s performance in Girl, Interrupted (1999), in which Ryder plays a troubled mental patient.) Molina’s character is as interesting as Hayak’s in real life, but Hayak stands out in the movie. Several smaller roles are played by Geoffrey Rush, Diego Luna, Ed Norton and Antonio Banderas.
The main themes of the movie deal with Frida’s physical pain, the politics of her time, her unique art and diverse relationships. Frida was openly bisexual and the movie highlights her relationships not only with her female lovers but also the women in her family. Her modest art captures her own personal pain, in contrast to the communist politics of her husband’s widely known murals.
The writing was good and made it fairly easy to understand the context of the story, but the themes are too well balanced to provide a main focus of the movie, which leaves it a little bland. However, the director deserves some credit for her creative way of blending many of Frida’s paintings into the scenes – a reflection of Frida’s custom of painting her raw thoughts and reality. I liked the symbolism as well; Frida’s pain and heartbreak is reflected in broken glass and dead flowers, and the ordinary appearance of Mexican mules resonates with Frida’s rugged spirit. I think that this movie would have benefited greatly from sticking to original Spanish to preserve solidarity of style, but it gets the story across nevertheless.
I wouldn’t let your child watch this movie because of the difficult themes and a few graphic scenes, but it’s worth watching yourself, especially if you enjoy Mexican culture and art. The movie won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best original score. The other Oscar it won was for best makeup – probably owing to Frida’s trademark joined brows. If you can get past the oddness of that, Hayak makes a very convincing and beautiful Frida.
~C. Noel Carlson