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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Frida

Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina
Director: Julie Taymor
Rated: R
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genre: Drama

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What are the chances that an obese 42-year-old man, not exceptionally rich and not particularly generous with what he has-- who drinks like a fish and cares little for the women who surround him--would succeed in having affairs by the truckload? Not many. Ah but there's one big extra: he's an alpha male, one who has won extraordinary renown in his field and is able to phone the president of his country at any time. What's more, as a communist whose friends of both sexes would hang up in artists' colonies, he would be expected to find women who didn't believe sexual relationships were something to be saved until marriage. He's Diego Rivera, Mexico's most famous male painter, whose murals can be seen on public buildings in Mexico City and whose painting came awfully close to decking the halls of a prominent building in New York's Rockefeller Center. "Frida," as you can tell from the title, is not about him, nor is it about some woman behind the man, but is dead-on about a person whom some consider even more talented than Rivera. Frida Kahlo's bio splashes across the big screen featuring the sorts of surreal images that a director based principally in the theater could bring to it. Julie Taymor's bio is in many ways a conventional one, first- rate in every way except one: though we leave the movie house with a strong image of the kind of person that Frida is, we scarcely know why she is famous since Taymor does not put enough of her works on the screen for us to evaluate.

Though Frida Kahlo is less known that the painter who became her husband at least until now the fault does not lie with any dearth of information, since over one hundred books have been published specifically about her relationship with Diego Rivera

Unlike Vincent Van Gogh who voluntarily disfigured himself at a self-destructive moment, Friday (Salma Kayek), born in 1907, was the victim at the age of eighteen of a terrible accident. A trolley car in which she was riding crashed into a building, lodging a metal rod into her body and causing her a lifetime of pain and complications years later that would cause her allegedly to commit suicide at the age of forty-seven. Bedridden for months, bitter that her life of amusement with the young men of her time might be over, she took up painting when her father (Roger Rees) presented her with an easel and discovered that she was enormously talented. She called upon Diego Rivera (Albert Molina) for an honest opinion, one which pleased her and led shortly to their marriage despite his refusal to promise her fidelity. Rivera would ultimately go to New York to paint a mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) one which was torn down because the painter refused to change the presence of Lenin on the canvas and later, back in Mexico, Rivera would provide shelter for political refugee Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush).

One gets the impression that the bi-sexual Frida wanted to compete with her husband in the numbers of affairs she conducted included one with Trotsky himself and a few with other women. Her tango with photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) generates more heat than the same dance between Lola Jansco and Regina Lambert in Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie.

Costume designer Julie Weiss shines in decking Ms. Hayek out with exquisite, body clinging Indian outfits, but the surreal images, particularly one that simulates the title character's final illness and ultimate cremation, are eye-poppers. Rodrigo Preito shows Mexican cathedrals and quaint neighborhoods favorably, the atmosphere given a huge boost by mariachi music on Elliot Goldenthal's soundtrack.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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