Frida Kahlo frequently lingered in the shadows of history during her lifetime, eclipsed by the enormous swath created by her famed husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
Today, Kahlo has been resuscitated as a feminist icon, the girl of the 1930s and 1940s who had "cojones," as husband Rivera characterized it, sexually chasing men and women with equal zeal and rejecting her husband's art world's petty pretensions.
Bringing Kahlo's tale to the cinema, therefore, conveys an essentially feminist spirit of bringing a forgotten artist to the forefront, a mission director Julie Taymor is able to fulfill despite her film's traditional architecture.
Taymor gives Frida the vivid, tumultuous portrayal of Kahlo's life that fans anticipate from a movie biopic.
Frida's frustrations and heartaches are addressed as important as her artwork, which frequently represented those very demons in astonishing and terrifying self-portraits and is graced with a robust, riveting performance by Salma Hayek.
Alfred Molina, who plays Rivera, is convincingly complex as a guy who extolled his wife's skills yet crushed her heart with his roving eye and disparaged her as a woman with his recurrent adultery.
Rivera sleeps with models, socialites, prostitutes, and even Kahlo's sister, while Marxist housewife Frida patiently takes food to Rivera's studio and listens to his problems.
Although Kahlo's life is limited to the usual romantic arc of a woman characterized by her great love in Frida, Hayek manages to elevate Kahlo.
Hayek transforms a fascinating historical character into a human being with her petite stature, dazzling eyes, peppery demeanor, and snappish humor.
"I prefer a female with guts," Rivera quips, a mix of respect and titillation in his voice immediately after meeting Kahlo.
And Frida adheres to that interpretation of Kahlo's audacious defiance, presenting spectators with the freeing vision of a woman filled with wrath, sexual boldness, and robust ideas.
Though it glosses over polio that was the first attack on Kahlo's body, Taymor's film focuses on the artist's life-changing bus accident as a teenager, the effects of which characterized her whole existence.
Frida learns to paint while confined to bed for more than a year, embellishing her chrysalis-like body casts with butterflies to emphasize her emerging creative transformation.
Rivera created well-known murals that praised the working class, Frida says.
But it was Kahlo's passionately proud Mexican background and reverence for its traditions that enabled her to infuse the morbidity and melancholy of Mexican culture, as well as her wrath at her pain-ridden and barren body, into her art.
While Diego spouts arcane beliefs on the end of "bourgeois" easel painting in Frida, Taymor maintains that Kahlo's masterwork was actual life, not political abstractions.
Despite the fact that she was frequently classed artistically with the Surrealists, Kahlo objected.
"I never painted dreams. I created my own reality", which encompassed, among other things, miscarriage, cancer, infertility, and adultery.
Taymor adds a Brothers Quay-animated sequence employing Day of the Dead skeletons to portray Frida's horrific recuperation from that tragic bus accident in an attempt to convey the dark mysticism and humor of Mexican culture that inspired Kahlo's art.
Taymor melds genuine instances from Kahlo's life with her canvases in other stylized situations to demonstrate her work's clash of self and art.
Those imaginative sequences are a pleasant diversion from the film's normal biopic evolution, which is pressured to touch on the renowned landmarks in Kahlo's life.
The director lets her inventive perception wander about the picture in a way that would allow her to transcend the shackles of her theatrical upbringing and adequately explore the fanciful potential of the cinematic medium.
Artist biopics are always tough to make because the parallels between life and art usually appear too evident and facile.
The finest ones bring us back to the art itself and make us empathize with its creator.
"Frida" is jam-packed with events and anecdotes—this was a life that ended at 46 yet made longer lifetimes look inadequate.
We occasionally get the impression that the film rushes from one bright moment to the next, but Frida Kahlo's life must have felt the same way.
The film opens in 1953, on the same day as Frida Kahlo's only one-woman show in Mexico.
Her doctor tells her she's too unwell to go, so she has her bed hoisted into a flat-bed truck and transported to the gallery.
This initial gesture sets the tone for Taymor's stunning ending moments, in which death is viewed as a piece of art in and of itself.
Frida, to its credit, depicts the complexities that have made Kahlo such a fascinating feminist symbol, including both the feeling of despair and terror in Kahlo's life, as well as an impish, anarchical spirit and piquant wit.
Frida, a film about a Communist, bisexual, hirsute, outspoken artist targeted directly at a popular audience, is considerably more radical than it looks.
Frida Kahlo was a brief shooting star in the Mexican art world, best known for her boldness, passion, and ingenuity.
Salma Hayek, co-producer and star, worked for seven years to bring the tale of this colorful and controversial artist to the big screen.
She found a spiritual friend in Julie Taymor, who matches Frida's fearlessness on paint with her own daring imagery on cinema.
The ultimate outcome of their partnership is a fascinating drama that speaks to the rebel in all of us.
Author: Akash R. Ekka
Editor: Rachita Biswas