Frida
Director: Julie Taymor. Cast: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Valeria Golino, MŪa Maestro, Roger Rees, Patricia Reyes Spindola, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, Diego Luna, Margarita Sanz, Antonio Banderas, Saffron Burrows. Screenplay: Clancy Sigal and Diane Lake and Gregory Nava & Anna Thomas (based on the book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera).

Frida giveth and Frida taketh away. The movie starts with an odd and interest-building prologue in a peacock-inhabited Mexican courtyard, from which a dead woman is toted into the open air, still atop her massive bedframe. And then the dead woman opens her eyes. Itís a grabber beginning. But then we transition into the same old ďyouth of a great artistĒ sequences familiar from every biopic ever, complete with a star actress wearing sailor suits and undignified haircuts so that she, and not some whippersnapper, can play those juicy teenage-years scenes. Itís a flabby first act.

Director Julie Taymor, the Lion King queen, halts this Romantic early passage with a showcase reenactment of the horrific city bus accident that nearly killed Frida Kahlo, annihilating bones and musculature that could never satisfactorily be mended. The crash itself is an impressive incident, even if the slow-motion choreography of pain and chromatic explosion of blood and gold dust set new heights in the aestheticization of violence—Kahlo was no stranger to aestheticizing violence, even if the style of this sequence could hardly be confused with her own. The follow-up is even ghastlier and more spectacular: an animated sequence in which skeleton puppets created by the Brothers Quay operate on a Frida doll and make oral notes about her injuries, including the handrail that has punctured her vagina. Frida, at moments like this, exists even more brazenly between different media (theater, film, animation, puppetry) than did her previous film, the 1999 neo-Shakespearean smorgasbord Titus. But if Fridaís highs are even higher, its lows are depressingly low: the Quay sequence leads into yet more of the flat-toned, dialogue-centered ďWho knows what will become of me?Ē stuff between Frida and her familial orbit. Too much of the film goes by before Taymor jump-starts our imaginations again, and Iím sure if she had her druthers—i.e., the requisite money—this forever-in-development movie would have involved many more such flourishes. But one is forced to evaluate a movie based on the shape it has finally taken, not the guessable intentions of what might have been, and on that level Frida is frustratingly middling. Decently acted, but not spectacularly so (Salma Hayek never once seems like a woman racked with pain). Adequately shot by Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, 8 Mile) but not as memorably as youíd expect. Laboring all the while under a music score by Elliot Goldenthal (Taymorís husband) that gets a little cutesy with the regional instrumentation and a little embarrassing with the stentorian climaxes at predictable dramatic junctures.

Frankly, Frida is the kind of picture I like to support even when itís of modest quality, since compromised ambitions and measured flashes of inspiration are always preferable to the safe and easy school of filmmaking. But itís ultimately a depressing experience, since most of whatís wrong with Frida amounts so transparently to industry bias and market constraints. Why is the film so filled with star and demi-star cameos (Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, a laughable Saffron Burrows) who are almost certainly wrong for their roles? Because no one would have financed Frida without them. Why isnít the film in Spanish, as dramatic sense demands, and as Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera certainly would have insisted? Because no one would have financed Frida in any language but English. Why do studios refuse to finance projects on incredibly fascinating people in the languages they actually spoke, played by actors unencumbered by celebrity baggage? Because they believe—and the box office usually acquits them—that people wonít go to these kinds of movies. Why donít people go? Because all their ticket money consistently goes to megahits like Men in Black 2, which most of them donít expect theyíll ever be able to remember. Ultimately, it is the fate of Frida that the contexts and background factors of this flawed production are more intricate and absorbing, and in some senses sadder, than the shape of what arrives onscreen. C+


Academy Award Nominations and Winners:
Best Actress: Salma Hayek
Best Art Direction: Felipe Fernández del Paso; Hania Robledo
Best Costume Design: Julie Weiss
Best Original Score: Elliot Goldenthal
Best Original Song: "Burn It Blue"
Best Makeup: John E. Jackson & Beatrice De Alba

Golden Globe Nominations and Winners:
Best Actress: Salma Hayek
Best Original Score: Elliot Goldenthal

Other Awards:
British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best Makeup/Hair (Judy Chin, Beatrice De Alba, John E. Jackson, and Regina Reyes)
Satellite Awards: Best Costume Design; Best Original Score

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