‘Frida' in the Flesh, But the Mystery Remains

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Upon first glance, Frida Kahlo seems little more than a Mexican artist with a unibrow that you can't stop staring at. However, there is a mystery that lies beneath that infamous brow. Kahlo was independent and emotionally troubled, as well as resourceful and physically disabled. The potraits she painted throughout her life were her way to cope with the pain she often experienced.

Julie Taymor's new film "Frida" examines the Mexican painter during various stages in her life. The end result is an incomplete portrait of Kahlo that unknowingly compares the artist to her art: both are original, distinctive, and unfortunately for the viewer, unclear. The film reflects many of these qualities as well, but includes creative interpretations that bring Kahlo's art to life and make the film particularly entertaining.

The film begins during Kahlo's (Salma Hayek) adolescence, when her life is drastically altered after a trolley accident leaves her with broken bones and a fractured spirit. After the accident, Kahlo is shown lying on the ground, covered in blood and gold dust--a reference to the beautiful art she creates from the pain she experiences. This part of the film focuses on Kahlo's use of art as therapy, which is illustrated in her sketches of butterflies on her cast and the self-portraits she paints to pass the time while she is recuperating. Its constant repetition throughout the film in scenes where Kahlo paints to escape pain may lead the viewer to wonder if Kahlo lived to paint or painted to live.

After recovering from the accident, she seeks out Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) for an honest critique of her work. Impressed by her paintings, he takes her under his wing and introduces her to communism. After a few months, Kahlo and Rivera decide to marry despite his notorious infidelity.

The film truly begins at this point, because the central focus is on the tumultuous relationship between these talented artists. The study of Frida Kahlo the artist is sacrificed at this point to examine Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera's wife. Once they marry, the focus switches to Rivera, and Kahlo becomes an observer on the sidelines during her own film. The viewers learn about Rivera's involvement in the Communist Party and his controversial painting for Nelson Rockefeller Jr., but this seems more appropriate in a film titled "Diego" rather than "Frida." Kahlo is all but disregarded during the middle of the film, and this takes a toll on the overall effectiveness of the film as a biography of Kahlo's life.

The last half-hour returns once again to the title character in her old age. The suffering she continues to endure from physical problems related to the accident provides subject focus and motivation for her paintings. Toward the end of her life, there is a showing of her art in Mexico City. This is the first time the viewer gets to see all of Kahlo's paintings, and arranged in chronological order, they say more about Kahlo's life than the film does. Her paintings strongly reflect the pain, emptiness, and suffering in her life, and in comparison, the film does not do her justice.

Kahlo's art is truly the most entertaining aspect of "Frida." Her paintings are personal explorations of emotion at different points in her life, and the cinematic effects used to bring them to life are incredible. Her portraits fuse with the film itself as paintings dissolve into scenes of her life. Kahlo's most famous painting of herself and Rivera on their wedding day gradually morphs into the event as it happens: guests dance into the picture, and Kahlo and Rivera gradually soften into Hayek and Molina at the wedding. Other scenes show Kahlo exhaling or grimacing in her paintings, and thus the viewer comes to understand Kahlo and how her art truly represented her life.

Salma Hayek embodies Kahlo in this film, giving life to the artist that few people knew and even fewer understand. Her acting is impressive and gives the character depth and substance. Her consistent performance is in contrast to the inconsistency of the film's focus on her character, but in spite of this, the film is interesting and tries to reach the viewer in novel, unique ways. The aesthetic qualities make it an enjoyable and entertaining experience, even if you spend most of the film staring at her eye brow.


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