Frida has been a long time coming to the screen, passing through many hands and possible leading ladies, including Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, before Salma Hayek and director Julie Taymor (Titus) got hold of it. It’s impossible to envision a more dazzling or passionate telling of the Mexican artist’s life.
Salma Hayek is Frida from high school days to deathbed; the actress more known for her beauty than her acting (Wild Wild West) completely transformed into the mono-browed artist-activist. But if Hayek is the embodiment of Kahlo’s physical being, then Julie Taymor is the artist’s imagination, sometimes subtly and at others dramatically converting the screen into the surreal canvas from which Frida’s art springs – set to an astonishing soundtrack of Mexican cantina song resulting in a film that is literally breathtaking.
Prior to an horrific bus accident in which Kahlo was impaled on a steel rod that crushed her spine and fractured her pelvis, she had intended to study medicine. But during the long months of her convalescence in a full body cast, she took up painting, one of the few things she could do from her bed.
As soon as she was able to walk again (with the help of a cane) she brought her work to the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) and demanded his opinion. He was unable to dismiss her work, and soon the two were embroiled in a passionate affair, though Rivera was married at the time and renowned for his womanising.
They marry against her mother’s protest, “It’s like the marriage of an elephant and a dove!” Rivera promises to be loyal, but warns Kahlo he can not be faithful and she accepts this, though it torments her throughout their stormy marriage.
His career then far surpassed hers and they travelled to the US and Europe, Diego the toast of the town, Frida neglected and lonely – until she becomes involved in affairs herself, with both men and women, including exiled Communist Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) and Josephine Baker.
Though her heart always belongs to Diego, her pain, physical and emotional, ends up on her canvases, Taymor cleverly blending the ‘live’ Frida with her paintings, so the line between reality and art is blurred.
As co-producer, Hayek called on friends for support, and we have Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller, Saffron Burrows as a New York socialite, Antonio Banderas as the painter-assassin David Siqueiros, and Ashley Judd as the photographer Tina Modotti, with whom Kahlo dances an erotic tango in order to seduce Rivera.
OscarTM is written all over Frida, with both Hayek and Taymor bound to be nominated. A far cry from your standard biopic, Frida is a stunning, glorious film that should not be missed.