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Frida Kahlo’s life depicted in new film

Wren Wertin

The film chronicles the life of Frida Kahlo, beginning as a schoolgirl almost painful to watch with her abundance of vivacity. Earthy in her sexuality, unashamed of her opinions, she apparently began her life with the sense of self most people hope to attain in a lifetime. In 1925, she was involved in a catastrophic trolley accident. On screen the trolley she is riding in crashes into a building. A pole rams into her back, leaving her to a life spent battling pain. Director Julie Taymor creates a sequence that will leave the theater with the viewer: gold flakes rain upon the scene, and the broken body of the young Frida is covered with blood, gold and trolley parts. It seems a surreal collage with the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the grotesques.

From there the story begins in earnest – Frida’s life of pain, her mentoring and eventual marriage with the muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), and their subsequent tempestuous life of love and despair.

The movie focuses on that relationship at the expense of other storylines. The political dealings of the communist party, which was central to their lives, seem but a detail in the film. Frida’s father fades away without explanation. Her international success is shown but briefly.

Yet her life is too complex to be dealt with adequately in two hours. Instead, Taymor chose to devote most of the film to exploring the ever-changing love affair. The result is a good understanding of it, though there was more to her life.

The manner in which “Frida” was filmed neatly focuses on a smattering of her paintings. The canvas fades into a tableau with Hayek front and center, or vice versa. These are sprinkled throughout the movie, as are other visual tricks that keep an element of the surreal involved. Sometimes Taymor speeds life up with comic vision, sometimes she lets the scene slow down where the only movement is nuance. It’s a successful marriage of techniques.

Hayek is startling in her portrayal or Frida. The physical similarities are unquestionable, her on-screen presence sensuous, captivating. She expresses well the dichotomy of pain and pleasure. Molina, too, as the elephantine Rivera, has a charisma that explains his success with women – despite his paunch and circumstance.

A line of cameos snakes through the film: Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas and Geoffrey Rush (who turns in a decidedly mediocre performance as Leon Trotsky) play minor roles.

“Frida” is visually stimulating and interesting. The Oscar buzz for Best Picture seems unfounded, though it may garner Best Actor/Actress nominations as well as Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography. It’s rated R for nudity, language and adult situations. “Frida” is playing at Cascade Theater; for showtimes call 476-5661.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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