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'Frida'

Sumptuous 'Frida' worth the wait

Friday, November 08, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

The adjective "long-awaited" is dangerous for a movie. Usually, it's just an overused studio-publicity term, but in the case of "Frida" it's both literally and figuratively true. Which means that -- some eight years in the trek from page to screen -- it checks in at the ticket counter late for the box-office flight and overweight with expectation baggage.

 
 
'Frida'

RATING: R for sexuality, nudity and language

PLAYERS: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas

DIRECTOR: Julie Taymor

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com/frida

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But we and "Frida" are lucky: It's a sumptuous film, ravishingly photographed, marvelously performed and nicely structured -- in short, fulfilling virtually all of those potential pitfall-expectations.

The story, of course, is that of brilliant international icon Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek), the Mexican artist-wife of muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) and lover of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) ever so briefly before his 1940 murder in Mexico City by Stalinist assassins.

And second prize is a LONG affair with Leon Trotsky.

Gorgeously hirsute Frida -- she, of the single thick black eyebrow and fab feminine mustache -- became an artist by default, her biographer Hayden Herrera tells us, after a horrendous motor accident in 1925 left her crippled and in constant pain for life.

Husband Diego, on the other hand, left her constantly for other women, including her own sister Cristina (Mia Maestro) and an endless string of prostitutes.

She painted to exorcise both forms of the pain. The paintings were all of herself -- self-portraits of agony and ecstasy, agonizingly masochistic and ecstatically colored. Director Julie Taymor renders them as Frida did, with a terrific magic realism worthy of Garcia-Marquez.

Hayek and Molina are quite perfect in the leads, empathetic all the way and at their naughtiest, and the distinguished supporting players are exceptionally good: Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller, Rivera's uneasy capitalist patron; Antonio Banderas as Diego's best friend; and Ashley Judd as Tina Modotti, the smartest and sexiest party-girl iconoclast of her day.

The sole disappointment is Geoffrey Rush, a pompous ass of an actor, who was fine as the Marquis de Sade but not for a moment believable as Trotsky.

"Astonished she remained, seeing the sun-stars and the live-dead world and being in the shade," Kahlo wrote of herself.

What a great radical-Communist, feminist-bisexual, crazy-creative groundbreaker Frida was. And what a delicious tribute to her and that period is this film, like Frida herself so full of tempestuous life.

Especially in the wake of this week's election, it makes you long for the 20th century.


Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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