Frida review by Tom Blain
Frida is a biopic (biography picture) about the life of little-known artist Frida Kahlo. She lived a pretty tough life and the goal of this film is to reveal the torment that her paintings were reflecting. When she was young she was in a near fatal bus accident that left her somewhat crippled for the rest of her life. She had at least one miscarriage (one that the movie showed) that was a result of her permanent injuries. Her art was overlooked mainly because she was a woman and partly because it sat in the shadows of her husbands (Diego Rivera) vast murals. On top of being an unnoticed artist, he cheated on her left and right claiming it was just part of his personality that couldnt be changed. Her life wasn't all wine and roses, but she persevered and in the end is remembered as a truly talented and honest artist.
Unfortunately, when it comes to biopics, its hard to believe what is true and what is made up for the sake of entertainment. After all these films are pumped out by Hollywood with the purpose of making money. The lines between fact and fiction are often squiggly, skewed, and transparent; fiction often wins the battle. Events can often be placed together for the sake of time, or for the sake of style. The result is corny dialogue that takes the history of 5 years and pushed it into 5 minutes worth of screen time. Sometimes one line of speech sounds like an idea of generation, just for the sake of contrasting current ideas or reflecting the political ethos at the time (ie many of the dinnertime discussions of communism sound like this).
Another flaw is that the main character is often treated like the main character by the other characters. I noticed this more than I expected in Frida. It seemed that everyone paid more attention to Frida and treated her differently than someone would in a true to life situation (I can see the writer/filmmaker becoming so enamored with their subject that they tailor everyones lines point back to them in a favoritist way). For example you see more people paying attention to her work in the film (Trotsky, Rivera, newspaper reporter, etc) than you do of Riveras work. This bothered me more in this film than in other films simply because I got the feeling that Frida in real life took a backseat to Diego Rivera, and therefore her work was relatively unknown. I realize the film is about her work, but it should be the camera's duty to flatter her work, and the characters duty to represent themselves truthfully to the people they represent.
There is a lot of critical thunder behind Julie Taymors Frida. It a big hitter on a lot film fest circuits and Salma Hayek is getting tons of press for her best performance to date. Her portrayal of artist Frida Kahlo is supposed to lock her into Oscar nominations for Best Lead Actress. That may happen just because the press hub-bub often has more to do with these types of awards than the actual performances themselves. Hayek does a good job with the role but at times I dont think her mood truly reflected her art, but its hard to say since I dont know what the real Frida was like. Judging from the art in the film, she seemed disturbed and often the Frida in the film was much more cheery, save a number of times she was cheated on. One plus on Hayeks side was that she didnt try to glamorize the role by using her Hollywood beauty. Shockingly she has a pretty unattractive yet authentic uni-brow and in most scenes didnt even look like the most attractive woman on screen. Her looks were as downtrodden as Cameron Diazs in Being John Malkovich but it got the job done.
Personally I think the real marvel of this film is not so much Hayek but Taymors art direction. She has taken the work of Frida Kahlo and incorporated into the film itself not just as still art but as something that lives. It becomes the background, the characters and the action of the film. Before your very eyes you see the art coming to life and moving as characters were blended into her paintings and then jumped right out of them into real situations. It not only gives us a better look at her pictures, but also shows us what points in her life inspired her and what she was reflecting. The first such scene I noticed this in was a Tim Burton-esque (I looked for his name in the credits BTW) clay-mation surgery scene after Frida was serioiusly injured. Skeletal pieces of her art were used in this action to put her back together. There were other scenes that started out as paintings (Frida and Dieog standing hand in hand) and they morphed into the actors so convincingly and seamlessly that you doubted whether it was actually a painting. One artsy scene, however, that didnt work for me was when Frida envisioned Diego as King Kong climbing the Empire State Building to capture her during some sort of Rivera New York Montage. Who dropped the scissors on that cut?
All in all Frida is pretty entertaining and beautiful to the eye, but it has its flaws as a movie that tries too hard to glorify its main character. Julie Taymor is really carving a name for herself as one of the top current directors (refreshing in such a male dominated profession). The acting is decent, highlighted by Salma Hayek who is good but not ground breaking. Worth a rent when it comes to video, but its not a must see picture on the big screen
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