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Frida

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Frida
from Film Forum, 10/31/02

Director Julie Taymor, famous for her elaborate stage production of The Lion King and her visually bizarre big screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus, is back with another rush for the senses: Frida. The film follows the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, focusing on her defiant affairs both romantic and artistic. Salma Hayek (Dogma, From Dusk Till Dawn) plays the lead role, and Alfred Molina (Chocolat, Raiders of the Lost Ark) co-stars as Frida's famous lover, artist Diego Rivera.

Frida receives early praise from Steve Lansingh (Film Forum): "As a biography the film works quite well, as the paintings had become more familiar and more alive once I knew the personalities behind the portraits. Taymor manages to blend paintings with animation and photography to really take us inside the works. As a story, the film has its rough patches, and wouldn't place in the top movies about artists over the centuries. Although stylisticly daring and tightly paced, the film spreads itself thin trying to cram in the politics, marriage, art, trauma, family, and country that influence Frida. It is at once intimate and clinical, both commiserative and expository. But if it is hit-or-miss, it hits more often than not, and makes for an compelling entrée into the artistic mind."

Regarding the reckless behavior of the central characters, Lansingh writes, "I can't pretend to hold Kahlo and Rivera up as moral paragons, but I think they do commit a courageous and revolutionary act. It is not when they get married, as the character in the film suggests. It is when, after having seen the utter blackness in each other, they remarry. I find myself moved by such "impracticality.""

But Lisa Rice (Movieguide) objects to the film, saying, "Despite superb acting and outstanding cinematography, Frida is a portrayal of the despair that comes as a certain fruit of every relativistic ideology." (Portraying the wages of sin is a bad thing?)

Mainstream critics are already offering mixes of praise and disappointment, calling it overly ambitious. A.O. Scott (The New York Times) writes, "Ms. Hayek and Mr. Molina are both wonderfully charismatic, but their scenes of recrimination and reconciliation have a dull, actorly flavor that makes the characters seem smaller than life. Frida is corseted by the norms of high-toned, responsible filmmaking, ticking off important events in Kahlo's life without much insight or feeling. But when the movie manages to break free—in bursts of color, imagination, music, sex and over-the-top theatricality—it honors the artist's brave, anarchic spirit."

Marghola Dargis (Los Angeles Times) agrees that it "ticks off Kahlo's lifetime milestones with the dutiful precision of a tax accountant. But it fails to get at the ferocity of the artist and her artifice, to get at the core of a woman who painted a self-portrait in which she gives birth to her adult self, as if she were both Zeus and Diana." She describes the film as a "meticulously mounted, exasperatingly well-behaved film."

from Film Forum, 11/07/02

Frida opened this week to a mix of praises and protests from critics. (Film Forum offered initial reviews last week.) The film covers the entire life of Frida Kahlo, from childhood to the many years of her tempestuous courtship, marriage, divorce, and remarriage to the famous politically passionate painter Diego Rivera.

Kahlo is played by Salma Hayek in a spirited, feisty performance which is matched, perhaps even surpassed, by the marvelous Alfred Molina as Diego. While viewers should be cautioned that director Julie Taymor portrays their promiscuous, reckless, amoral lifestyles unflinchingly, the lesson of the tale emphasizes the value of marital fidelity and the healing power of forgiveness. In fact, Frida stands out more as a film about marriage than about art or politics. (My full review is at Looking Closer.)

Mike Hertenstein (Cornerstone) says, "The irresistible challenge in making films about artists is to convey something of the visual style of the artist in the film: here, bright colors and dream sequences and visions help give life to Frida's work, but the translation from simple, iconic forms to three dimensions enforces a literalization and conventional narrative that in some ways works against the power of the original work. Still, this is an engaging biopic that tells a story which would be unbelievable if it were fiction."

Gerri Pare (Catholic News) writes, "The film celebrates Frida's life's struggle without judging her promiscuity or bisexuality. This is troubling, yet what clearly emerges is how harmful marital infidelity was to both Frida and Diego. In showing the unhappy consequences of adultery, the movie offers a cautionary note and suggests that the old chestnut that artists are not bound by traditional morality doesn't mean they won't suffer as a result."

Paul Bicking says the film "gives insight to the surrealistic images in [Kahlo's] works. Art lovers will undoubtedly embrace Hayek's performance." But he calls the graphic representation of Kahlo's sexual infidelities unfortunate.


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