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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/02/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 122 mins

Well-acted, visually impressive film with an Oscar-nominated central performance from Hayek.

By all accounts, it has taken Salma Hayek over ten years to get this film produced, during which time she has seen off challenges from both Jennifer Lopez and Madonna. Hayek apparently felt that the Mexican, mono-browed bisexual surrealist painter was the role she was born to play and she fought passionately to get it made.

Her choice of director was also a shrewd one, because Julie Taymor’s visual style ensures the film is never less than sumptuous to look at, even if the script occasionally feels a little flat.

Straightforward Flashbacks

The film is pretty much a straightforward biopic, in the form of flashbacks from Kahlo’s deathbed. It covers the period of her life from the 1920s, when, as a young girl she first met womanising muralist Diego Riviera (Alfred Molina, excellent), through her crippling trolley accident in 1925, to her emergence as an artist and her tempestuous love-life, including marriage to Riviera and affairs with the likes of Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) and photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd).

Hayek is excellent as Kahlo, although you occasionally wonder if she isn’t entirely too gorgeous for the role – she somehow even manages to make a full body-cast look sexy. (You can’t, however, say the same for the trademark moustache and monobrow combo).

There’s also great support from Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush and Valeria Golino (as Riviera’s wife), as well as a host of cameos from the likes of Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas (as David Alfaro Siqueiros) and Hayek’s real-life partner Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller. (Norton also did an uncredited last-minute rewrite).

Colour, Noise And A Little Too Much Happiness

The direction is extremely impressive throughout – Taymor (Titus) uses a variety of animation techniques and 3D effects to literally bring the paintings to life. Similarly, the horrific trolley crash sequence is filmed in an unusual way, ending as a riot of colours and noise.

Criticisms of the film have so far focussed on the fact that Frida seems ‘too happy’, implying that Hayek has somehow failed to capture her pain. (Hayek counters that she was more interested in showing her strength). However, one thing is certain – the film isn’t especially deep and you come away from wishing they had delved a bit harder.

That said, there are no shortage of Shallow And Obvious Reasons to see the film – aside from the various nude scenes, the bit where Salma performs a risqué tango with Ashley Judd will almost certainly guarantee it a shelf life on DVD.

In short, this is beautifully shot, well acted and worth seeing, if perhaps, ultimately, a little shallow. Though, never forget, it could have been Madonna in the title role, so thank heaven for small mercies…

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Content updated: 25/01/2020 18:59

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