Julie Taymor’s film Frida (2002) is infused and enriched with arty flair along with a zealous story that explores the extraordinary and spirited life of Frida Kahlos, the infamous painter from Mexico. My eyes can’t help but fall in love with this film. Taymor showcases her badass splendor and indulges us with compelling cinematography. From the inciting moment of Frida’s bus accident leading her life into an ongoing battle of physical pain to her rocky marriage with Diego Rivera, but ultimately it’s her talent and passion for painting that garnishes this film with great tragic beauty. The film itself is a work of art with electrifying performances from Salma Hayek, Alfredo Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, and Diego’s first wife.
Taymor does an incredible job of giving us a taste of Mexican culture with very colorful costuming and set design tying in some enticing significance in that she lived a life full of tragic and beautiful moments which would become the material for her art. One pivotal scene in particular is the aftermath of Frida’s accident where she’s wedged between the crumbled debris of a trolley while specks of glittery gold scatter across her unconscious body. The image itself is haunting yet very sparkly. The next sequence metamorphoses into an eccentric unfolding trauma driven nightmare as she undergoes numerous surgeries to fix her critical injuries. It has that Tim Burton finesse of creepy skeletons acting like surgeons in a stop motion like effect.
What I enjoy most of all is the framework in which the camera is staged as if it were a mirror reflecting Frida’s paintings. For instance, when Frida is in New York with Diego for work, there’s an image of her dress blowing in the wintery wind isolated in a foreign land. There’s also the scene where she lays in a hospital bed after miscarrying and demands to see her unborn child so she can paint him. Her pain is manifested in grotesque and disconcerting images which actually reminds me of quote written by poet R.M. Drake. “Art is pain. And pain is the art in which we find ourselves.” This resonates such a dark and beautiful theme that’s sewn through the course of the narrative and throughout Kahlos life. Her painting is an expression of her pain despite it’s grotesque imagery. Not only does she paint from her personal tragedy but also from the culture and world around her. She even makes a remark about a man stabbing his wife twenty-some odd times so ends up painting a depiction of the aftermath which is pretty damn dark but also a testament to her mentality at the time. She briskly cuts her hair, drinks like a fish, smokes, and loathes in her own depression after Diego sleeps with her sister which is beyond forgivable in her eyes.
For any creative person or artist, I believe pain is a huge motivator to unload their emotions whether it be through paint, music, writing, or any visual medium. Marina Abramovic is notorious for exploring the realms of pain in her own performance art by using her own body as the canvas. In a way I see a slight symmetry between the two women like each other’s spirit animals who get knocked down time and time again only to get back up not giving into dwelling in they’re failures. These women are hardcore warriors!
One of my favorite sequences is when Frida meets the communist Diego Rivera for the first time. She and a group of students find the sex-starved artist getting frisky with one of his models as he’s taking a break from painting, while his wife walks in and screams at him. It’s like watching act two of a dramatic play. What makes this scene awesome is that it all takes place on a stage and the students are peeping through the seats acting like some invisible audience. As they sneak out, Frida stands up and calls him Panzon! It’s a cute match up between mentor and pupil because the two are painters and passionate about their work together. Frida asks for Diego’s professional opinion on her work and from there it unfolds into a romance electrified by their fiery personalities. Despite their 20-year age difference, I can’t help but root for these two because it’s sexy and they’re such a dynamic duo inspiring as well as admiring each other’s work despite Diego’s infidelity. There’s a fierce love there. The chemistry between Molina and Hayek’s captivating and provocative performances pair well giving the film a sweet layer of life that really sets this piece of art in motion.
According to the American Film Institute Frida was ranked film of the year in 2002 because it’s a movie about art and we’re taken through the emotions and experiences of an artist’s life which is depicted on screen as a work of art within itself. Julie Taymor has a lively and imaginative style constructive with a multitude of vivid layers and screen direction paralleling the work in Frida’s paintings. Just like Across the Universe, Frida is a breathtaking work of brilliance that allows your mind to transcend into a fantasy world so full of life and sometimes that life can be painful but when you have an artistic outlet to unfold those emotions it becomes essential to finding tranquility.