Frida (8/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Frida is a sanitized biopic of the painter Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) and her life with Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), beautifully photographed by Rodrigo Prieto.  Rivera was a revered Mexican muralist and painter, controversial because of his bohemian lifestyle and Communist politics.  This film deals with all of that from Frida’s point of view, including her affair with Bolshevik Leon Trotsky.

 Frida is tragically injured while still a teenager and left with a life burdened by constant pain.  She falls in love with Rivera, despite Rivera’s way with women that results in his sleeping with virtually every woman with whom he comes in contact.  He asks Frida to marry him and she asks if he can be faithful.  He replies that he cannot be sexually faithful, but he can be loyal, which she accepts.  This loyalty is abused on their wedding night.

 What follows is a tepid accounting of their life together, and her developing career.  While this movie is interesting and does capture Frida’s courage in facing a lifetime of pain without letting it dominate her, it doesn’t emphasize her pain enough to let us feel what she’s going through.  And it skimps on Frida’s fervent Communism, making it seem like Rivera was the serious one and Frida just a bystander.  In true life, however, Frida said, “I was a member of the Party before I met Diego and I think I am a better Communist than he is or ever will be.”  This is certainly not apparent from the movie.  It also emphasizes her lesbian affairs, which were tolerated by Rivera, and, except for Trotsky, ignores her heterosexual affairs, which caused Rivera violent jealousy.  Director Julie Taymor makes a nice start here, but has told a story about hugely emotional people that is strangely lacking in emotion.

 Kahlo was courageous in living a life filled with pain and the infidelities of her husband.  But by ignoring her ardent Communism and her infidelities with other men, Frida seeks to create a saint without providing all the facts.  The movie would have been so much more meaningful were it to have shown her with all her warts (and moustache), leaving it to the viewer to decide whether the admirable outweighed the notorious.  While this film holds your interest, in the final analysis, the truth would have made a much better story.

 The End