Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The story of how Salma Hayek tried for years to interest Hollywood in Frida Kahlo is a film in its own right. Her skill as a producer, her tenacity as a fighter, her talent as an artist and her inspiration as an actor finally comes to fruition. Close friends, such as Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton, play bit parts as a way of pledging their support.

Directed by Julie Taymor, whose work with opera is internationally renowned, as was her transformation of The Lion King to the Broadway stage, this is a biopic that uses creativity as a tool with which to dissect a tempestuous life. Artists and writers are not easy subjects, because outside their work, they can be spoilt babies with inflated egos.

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Not so Frida. Her father (Roger Rees) was a German Jew, who came to Mexico and worked as a professional photographer. In 1925, while still a student, she was involved in a bus crash, which almost killed her. During long months of recovery, she lay in bed painting and when finally was able to walk again took her canvases to the famous artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) for his advice. "I hope to be a self-sufficient cripple," she told her father.

Her love affair with Rivera lasted until the day she died. Twenty one years older than her, he was known as a philanderer, a Communist, a gourmet, "physiologically incapable of being faithful to one woman" and a painter of conviction. They married twice.

The film captures the mood of the moment with genuine flair and style, which only emphasises the lack of serious political debate that takes place in wine bars and at dinner parties today. "I would rather have an intelligent enemy than a stupid friend," the muralist David Siqueiros (Banderas) tells Rivera after a fiery argument.

Their lives were so full and so intense that a film of this length can only work as an impressionist piece. Frida's bisexuality is touched upon and then dropped. Her affair with Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush at his least showy) is brushed quickly aside. The famous row with Nelson Rockefeller (Norton), after which Rivera's monumental mural at the Rockefeller Centre was destroyed - remember Tim Robbins's Cradle Will Rock? - cannot be given the weight it deserves.

The screenwriters stay close to the central relationship, without losing touch with the freedom of thought amongst the Mexican intelligentsia. Hayek's enthusiasm bursts through into Frida's life, irradiating it with vitality, and Molina is magnificent as a loveable rogue whose respect for his wife's work surpasses any obsession with his own.

Shot entirely on location in Mexico, Taymor has succeeded in recreating an extraordinary time for an exceptional woman. She does so with love and imagination.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2003
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The passionate love and life story of Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
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Director: Julie Taymor

Writer: Clancy Sigel, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas and Edward Norton, based on the book by Hayden Herrera

Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Valeria Golina, Roger Rees, Mia Maestro, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton

Year: 2002

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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