It is rare when a film comes along that is so beautiful, poignant and inspirational, that it profoundly affects my views on life, but, one has... in the form of Frida. It is essentially the story of celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her lifelong struggle with pain and her art... but it is so much more. It is also the fascinating love story between two polar-opposites who loved, tormented, betrayed and supported each other for close to three decades.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in Mexico City. She suffered with Polio from the age of 6, and in 1925 was involved in a horrific bus accident. She received a broken spinal column, broken ribs, collarbone, pelvis, 11 fractures in her right leg, her right foot was dislocated and crushed, and her shoulder was knocked out of joint. She would eventually endure a total of 30 surgeries, and spend the first two years following the accident, bedridden in a body cast, unable to move. With a fierce determination and nothing but time on her hands, she passed the days painting butterflies on her cast, and then with the help of her father and a makeshift easel, she began to create self-portraits of a young woman in excrutiating pain. When the cast was finally removed, she decided to pursue a career as a painter and it is then she met fellow artist and her future husband Diego Rivera, a charming bear of a man, who was as famous for his womanising as he was for his art, but she loved him, and that's all that mattered.
Director Julie Taymor wanted to make a film that focused on the love story between Frida and Diego. She had no interest in directing an artist film, but was intrigued with the personal diary and paintings of Frida Kahlo enough to tell the story. She paid exquisite attention to detail on everything from the clothing, to the food, to the music, to the colours of a pre-polluted Mexico City. The film was shot on a small budget, and many of the stars agreed to appear for scale, because they loved the script and were close friends of Salma's (who spent years trying to get the film made). Taymor was determined to get it right. She knew she had two things against her going into the making of the film (the fact that she was an American, and the film being shot in English), so she did her homework and tried to employ locals to lend as much authenticity as possible.
Salma Hayek's casting as Frida was inspired. The physical resemblance is there, but up until then, she had only a mediocre acting career and the film's success depended entirely on her performance - she did not disappoint. She was able to shift effortlessly between betrayed wife, proud artist, aggressive bisexual, and loving daughter and sister, but her biggest challenge was in depicting the horrible physical pain Frida suffered most of her life. It was always there... sometimes heart-wrenchingly obvious, other times right below the surface, kept at bay by a multitude of drugs, but it was there, and Salma did a phenomenal job (she received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for her efforts). Alfred Molina gained quite a bit of weight for his role as Diego, and he not only looked the part, but he captured the essence of a man who, despite his adultery, loved his wife more than anything else in his life. Roger Rees does a fine job as Frida's father Guillermo Kahlo, Geoffrey Rush and Ashley Judd are superb as Leon Trosky and Tina Modotti respectively, and Valeria Golino is wonderful as Diego's ex-wife Lupe Marín.
Music played an important role in the lives of Frida and Diego. Composer Elliot Goldenthal (the real-life significant other of director Julie Taymor), went to great lengths to capture the flavour of Mexico City and the tempestuous relationship between Frida and Diego. He utilised the talents of Lila Down, Chavela Vargas and local musicians, and his music (which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score), reflects the proud traditions and culture of the Mexican people.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the picture is near pristine. Different colour palettes were used throughout the film to represent specific geographical locations - sepia and black & white were used for their travel/history montage, and true colour (vivid blues and reds) was used for Mexico City. Black levels are fine, there is no noticeable edge enhancement and the skin tones are natural looking.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack means little surround utilisation, but composer Elliot Goldenthal's brilliant score and the dialogue sound clean, crisp and hiss-free. An optional French Dolby Digital 5.1 Soundtrack is also available.
Chapter Stops and Menus - The main menu is a sliding collage of animated and still scenes from the film accompanied by instrumental Mexican music from the film - there are 22 chapter stops presented two at a time against a static background.
A Conversation with Salma Hayek - A 38-minute on-camera interview with Salma Hayek. She discusses her professional relationship with director Julie Taymor, the rehearsal process, her fascination with Frida Kahlo, her 8-year struggle to get the film made, and the writing collaboration between her real-life significant other Edward Norton and Taymor.
Commentary with Julie Taymor - Julie Taymor is my idea of a perfect commentator. Her words flow, she focuses on the scene in front of her without going off on a tangent about something irrelevant, and she provides a wealth of information on everything from Alfred Molina's 50-pound weight gain for the part of Diego, to the recreation of the bus accident. Just a wonderful commentary.
Commentary with Elliot Goldenthal - Composer Elliot Goldenthal's commentary is not as captivating as Taymor's, but he provides excellent musical background information for 4 segments of the film: Opening, The Accident, "A Self Sufficient Cripple" and Tangos and Manifestos.
Sneak Peeks - The following trailers are shown: Miramax Year of Gold, Gangs of New York, Chicago, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frida Soundtrack Spot
AFI Q & A with Julie Taymor - A 30-minute feature filmed October 2, 2002 in front of a live audience. Julie Taymor does most of the talking and fields questions from the interviewer and audience members. She is very articulate and passionate and it is quite good.
Bill Moyers Interview with Julie Taymor - A 19-minute interview, that covers different ground from the AFI interview.
Chavela Vargas - A 15-minute interview with a singer from the film who was also a real-life companion to Frida. Chavela is a fascinating elderly Mexican woman, whose self-described "slightly-broken voice" is featured in two of the film's most incredible scenes. Elliot Goldenthal conducts the interview in English, but she responds in Spanish with English subtitles.
The Voice of Lila Down - A 5-minute interview with Mexican singer Lila Down which features footage of her rehearsing and a short commentary.
The Vision of Frida: with Rodrigo Prieto and Julie Taymor - A 6-minute feature with the Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto in which he explains his use of colours, light and shadows and the film's different lighting challenges.
The Design of Frida: with Felipe Fernandez - A 2-minute feature, with the head of the art department Felipe Fernandez.
The Music of Frida: with Elliot Goldenthal and Salma Hayek - Salma turns the tables on Elliot, as SHE is the interviewer in this segment.
Salma's Recording Session - A 2 and a half minute feature which shows Salma getting slightly drunk in order to record a song for the film's CD… she is urged on by director Taymor and composer Goldenthal.
Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life and Art to Film: A walk through the real locations - A 5-minute feature, which shows how some of the homes were recreated and which offers a peek into the actual Leon Trosky and Frida Kahlo museums.
Portrait of an Artist - A 14-minute standard making of featurette.
"Amoeba Proteus" Visual FX Piece - A 9-minute feature with visual effects supervisors Dan Schrecker and Jeremy Dawson - they explain their FX improvisations and technical wizardry.
"The Brothers Quay" Visual FX Piece - A 1 and a half minute feature in which the brothers explain their FX contributions.
Frida Kahlo Facts - This feature includes some interesting text with facts about Frida.
Frida is a beautifully realised film. Julie Taymor's exquisite attention to detail (it won an Academy Award for Best Make-up), the superb acting, Goldenthal's mesmerizing Mexican score and the underlying love story are preserved on an excellent 2-disc DVD set packed with wonderful extras. Frida appeals on so many levels: a poignant love story between one of history's oddest couples; a visually stunning look at Mexico City; a colourful, albeit brief history of the politics of that era and the awe-inspiring guts and determination of a very complex artist and wife who struggled daily to paint her own physically painful reality. I highly recommend this film.