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Frida (R)
Miramax films
Official Site
Director: Julie Taymor
Producers: Sarah Green, Salma Hayek, Jay Polstein, Lizz Speed, Nancy Hardin, Lindsay Flickinger, Roberto Sneider
Written by: Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas
Cast: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas

Rating: out of 5

Julie Taymor’s last directorial effort—2000’s hopelessly gaudy, aimless Titus—was no doubt a failure, but at least it was a spectacular one. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for Frida, Taymor’s latest effort, which simply doesn’t take enough risks for a film about an artist who did nothing but. Taymor takes the controversial figure of Frida Kahlo (played by Hayek) and couches her within the quaintest of stories. It’s easy to imagine that Kahlo would be very disappointed with the result.

After all, here is a woman who not only survived great adversity, but channeled it into her grotesquely beautiful artwork. In 1925, when Kahlo was a mere 18 years old, she was involved in a near-fatal accident when a trolley car collided with the bus she and her boyfriend Alejandro were riding on. She suffered a broken collarbone, two broken ribs, 11 fractures to her right leg, and her spinal column was broken in three places. Most horrifically—and undoubtedly the experience that is most often conveyed through her bloody, anatomical artwork—she lost the ability to have children when a metal handrail pierced her pelvis and exited through her vagina.

The crash scene is recreated well enough, with Kahlo’s body covered in gold dust, blood, and her own tattered clothing, but it’s also very distant, never throwing us into the wake of what’s going on the way Kahlo’s artwork does. The scene itself is indicative of the entire movie, which keeps us at arm’s length, begging us to admire Kahlo, but never allowing us to really get to know her. The film looks right, but it never feels right—it never captures the paintings, pain, and affairs that constituted Kahlo’s life. Taymor crafts her film like a bored college freshman who is forced to write an essay on The Scarlet Letter: The film seems like it’s constructed more out of a sense of duty than curiosity.

This would certainly explain the glossing over of Kahlo’s more controversial aspects, especially her unwavering support of Stalin. Taymor, whose origins are on the stage, has a fantastic eye for detail, but doesn’t bring much depth to the film she is making. She’s not helped by Hayek, Molina, or the rest of the cast, who obviously feel that they are doing Very Important Roles, and therefore do not have to bring any passion to their characters. Hayek sports a mean unibrow, but she’s more suited to play Sesame Street’s Bert than a spitfire like Kahlo: She looks more constipated than anguished.

Still, she’s better than Banderas and Judd, who play David Alfaro Siqueiros and Italian photographer Tina Modotti, respectively. They’re both so over the top, it’s embarrassing, although not as embarrassing as the platitudes all of the characters spew throughout the course of the film. You have to admire Frida for trying, but in the end, it’s nothing short of an insult to the artist’s, and audience’s, intelligence.

—Erin Steele

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