By Nora Hogan
If you’re a pseudointellectual art nerd like me, you must watch “Frida,” like now. Filmmaker Julie Taymor’s biographic drama depicting the life of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican surrealist painter is nothing less than an artistic masterpiece.
Although Frida Kahlo’s name and artwork are widely known, I knew very little about the artist’s story until watching this film. It’s an adaptation of author Hayden Herrera’s biography of the painter, whose both fantastic and tumultuous life produced artwork that would become pillars of the magic realism art movement.
“Frida” introduces us to the artist shortly before the traumatic bus accident that gives her injuries she would suffer from for the rest of her life. Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek, while bedridden for three months, teaches herself to paint after being prompted by her father to take up the hobby as part of her recovery process.
The film highlights the artist’s dysfunctional marriage with the famed Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina. Frida initially seeks Rivera’s guidance and opinion on her work as a fellow artist. However, soon after they become friends, the two discover their mutual attraction for one another and marry. Their marriage does not remain a fidelitous one. Rivera, remaining true to his womanizing ways, takes on several lovers in the duration of his marriage to Kahlo. In return, Kahlo has affairs with both men and women and even slept with the same woman who had been one of her husband’s previous conquests.
Rivera’s career takes the pair to New York City after he receives a commission to paint a mural at the Rockefeller Center. Unfortunately, Rivera’s communist vision of his work does not sit well with his employer, Nelson Rockefeller, played by Edward Norton. He refuses to compromise, so the mural is destroyed. Meanwhile, Kahlo suffers a miscarriage and her mother falls ill. The combination of these events brings the two back to Mexico.
Back in Mexico, Rivera has an affair with Kahlo’s sister, prompting Kahlo to leave Rivera and sinking her into alcoholism. They later reunite when Rivera asks Kahlo to help him welcome Leon Trotsky, played by Geoffrey Rush, who had recently been granted political asylum in Mexico, into their home. Kahlo and Trotsky have an affair, which would eventually force Trotsky to leave the safety of his married home and Kahlo to leave for Paris once Rivera realizes that she was unfaithful to him. Rivera asks Kahlo for a divorce as Trotsky was too important to him for Kahlo to be involved sexually with his wife. Later, Kahlo and Rivera remarry as her health continues to decline. After having both her toes and a leg amputated and having a solo exhibition of her paintings in Mexico, Kahlo dies, but not without leaving a lasting legacy.
The artistic license that Taymor takes to bring Kahlo’s paintings to life on-screen pays tribute to the artist’s untamed spirit. Several of Kahlo’s most famous works, including “The Two Fridas,” “The Wounded Deer” and “Frida and Diego Rivera,” are featured in the film in dazzling theatrical displays full of surrealistic color and light.
Salma Hayek’s performance is nothing less than spectacular. She brings just the right amount of raw emotion and force to the role. Hayek actually had to contend against J. Lo and Madonna for this prized role. Regardless, I am glad that she was chosen as I believe that her heritage as a Mexican-American actress adds another element to her performance that a non-hispanic actress could not replicate.
Since watching the film, Frida Kahlo has literally become my inspiration in life. The larger-than-life, 5’3” woman was nothing less than an absolute queen. She defied the cultural norms of her time to make a career, speak out about her political beliefs and be open about her sexual preferences. Frida Kahlo’s perseverance against society should be celebrated and talked about just as much as her art.
My recommendation would be to watch this movie earlier in the night, rather than later, and with friends, so that you can engage in a lively conversation about the contents of the plot and imagery afterwards. You must see this film before it leaves Netflix. Happy viewing!