Too much of Hayek’s body, not enough of Frida’s work

Biopics that stick too close to their story tend to be boring. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Frida, an adaptation of Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrara.

Kahlo’s life was more tumultuous than the average world-famous artist’s, and that is stirringly portrayed here.

The film starts with Frida (Salma Hayek) as a teen, messing with her adolescent boyfriend (Diego Luna) and eavesdropping on muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) during his sexual dalliances with an art school model.

Throughout the film, director Julie Taymor mirrors Kahlo’s artistic vision, espousing vivid colors and inventive imagery. While riding the trolley, Frida asks to see the gold flakes held by a fellow traveler. After the trolley crashes, she is shown covered in blood while gold flakes fall on her body.

During the operation after the accident, Taymor uses eerie animation of skeleton doctors operating on young Frida.

Then, as the skeletons talk about the operation, they morph into the doctors as Frida lies in a haze.

While resting in a bodycast, Frida keeps painting, and after she recovers, she returns to see Diego. Under the guise of communist camaraderie, Diego takes the young artist under his wing, eventually falls in love and leaves his wife (Valeria Golino).

Kahlo’s unmitigated politics are well-represented; she leads many marches throughout Mexico, complains about the materialism of America when the couple visits New York and thinks the French appreciate her art for its exoticism rather than its merit. She even accepts exiled revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) to stay at her parents’ home.

Still, the film largely misses out on her specific ideals; whenever a political discussion is presented, it’s usually Diego, Trotsky or David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas) talking. Frida, whose politics in real life were as important to her as her art, just looks on.

The casting in Frida is excellent. Molina portrays Diego with the charisma for which the latter was known. Golino finally gets a good role as Diego’s ex-wife and Frida’s confidant, Lupe Marín. Ed Norton even gets the most out of a small part, playing Nelson Rockefeller.

While the relationship between Rivera and Kahlo was central to her life, Frida lingers a bit too much on Diego and his artistic career. When in New York, the film portrays Diego arguing with Rockefeller about a mural, neglecting Frida for the whole scene.

However, Frida’s struggles with art are completely ignored throughout the film. She is portrayed as a natural, which isn’t necessarily true. All artists have trouble with their art from time to time, and Kahlo was no different.

Her sexual exploits are also overblown in the film. Hayek is frequently shown nude in the film. But while the nudity is effective early in the film, it’s distasteful and unnecessary toward the end.

Frida’s bizarre but loving relationship with Diego makes the film, but at times it is dwelled upon too much.

Perhaps it should have been titled Frida and Diego.

Nevertheless, the film succeeds in educating the public about one of the most ambiguous artists of the 20th century.

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‘Frida’ is rated R and is now playing.