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This is a biopic of 20th century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Many people have tried to get this movie made (Madonna and JLo both were said to have wanted to play her on screen), but Salma Hayek got it done, and she did a good job. Her likeness to Frida is uncanny.
The film opens in a courtyard home painted bright blue. There is a cactus garden overrun with various animals. Four men are carrying a four-poster bed out of the home and into an open panel truck. We see Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) inside the bed all dressed up as she is being transported. A close-up of Frida's face segues to Mexico City, 1922.
Here, a much younger Frida is dashing through through her schoolyard to gather her friends. They sneak into the auditorium, where painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) is working on a large mural, using a nude model. Frida and her friends watch from the balcony as Diego's wife Lupe (Valeria Golino) accuses him of infidelity with the model. She leaves, and Diego begins to seduce the model, but is distracted when Frida shouts from the balcony. Her friends scatter, but Frida stands up calls Diego "pancon" (her pet name for Diego throughout the movie).
At home, Frida enjoys a secret tryst with her boyfriend Alex just before her sister Christina's wedding dinner. There's a touching scene between Frida and her father Guillermo (Roger Rees), who is a photographer and painter. As Guillermo gathers the family for a portrait Frida is missing, but she arrives dressed as a man, much to her mother's dismay. Guillermo quips, "I've always wanted a son," and snaps the photo.
Frida and Alex are back in the auditorium, awestruck at the finished mural, and dash off to board a trolley. They are discussing Communism when the trolley has an accident. Frida is badly injured and wakes up weeks later in a body cast. (Frida would suffer severe pain for the rest of her life) It is doubtful she will walk again.
Eventually Frida is brought home and laid up in bed. Her cast is changed often, and her father gifts her with an easel that props up on her bed. Frida paints the first of many self-portraits (paintings adorn her body cast), and is visited by Alex, who announces that he is leaving for Europe, which greatly upsets Frida.
Eventually Frida is able to leave the bed. Some time passes and she is painting Christina's portrait (Christina now has a baby) when her parents come home. Frida wants to show them something, and carefully rises from her wheelchair and takes a few awkward steps.
Now armed with a cane, Frida tentatively boards a trolley to a plaza where Diego is working on a mural. Calling him "pancon," she attracts his attention and asks for a critique of the paintings she has brought. Diego thinks they are good, but Frida is not satisfied with the bland praise. She leaves a painting with her address, and Diego comes to visit. He insists that she is a very good painter and should pursue her art, but even so she feels a bit of self-doubt.
Diego takes her to a party hosted by a photographer named Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd). There she meets many of Diego's contemporaries and Lupe, who is obviously still carrying the torch for Diego as she and Frida watch him flirt with every girl in the room. Diego and David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Bandaras) talk politics, and David accuses Diego of being a "government whore" because despite his Communist leanings he still takes commissions from the government. Diego is angered and shoots the record player, but Tina diffuses the tension by holding a drinking contest. Winner gets to dance with her. Frida wins, and the two women engage in a racy tango to Diego's amusement.
Diego and Frida are soon inseparable. Frida poses for him and hangs out with him at the Communist Party's headquarters and joins in the marches. Diego's home is nearby, and as he takes her home one night they agree to be only comrades, not lovers. Of course, this doesn't happen and two begin an affair. Diego wants to marry Frida, but warns her that he can't guarantee marital fidelity. Frida tells him his loyalty to her is more important than fidelity.
They marry, despite the misgivings of Frida's mother, who likens the wedding to a marriage between an elephant and a dove. A reception hosted at the Communist headquarters is disrupted by Lupe, who insults Frida. Frida is later upset that Diego didn't stick up for her. The next morning, breakfast is ruined when Frida learns that Lupe is living in the apartment upstairs. Frida confronts Lupe, but ends up befriending her as the two talk about Diego and his wanderlust. Lupe's children create a fuss and Lupe dismisses them, and here you can tell Frida is wanting a child of her own (her barren nature was a common theme in her paintings). Lupe warns her that if Diego is offered a commission out of Mexico, he might not come back.
Diego is working on a mural for the Chapingo Chapel with a nude model, and Frida offers a critique of his work. Later, as the mural is almost finished, Frida discovers Diego has cheated on her with the model, which upsets her. She tells him to wash up before they go out. Later, at a bar, Frida is singing and having a good time, but somebody picks a fight with Diego. A brawl ensues. Diego and Frida go home and Diego is upset that people are treating him badly because he is accepting government commissions. He reveals to Frida that he has been offered a show in New York and wants Frida to come with him.
In New York, Diego is the toast of the art critics, and he enjoys the attention from the ladies. A scene with a revolving door depicts Diegos frequent infidelity, while it is reveal Frida is also fooling around. Diego is offered a commission to paint the lobby of the Rockefeller Center by Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton), and is excited that the job will lead to commissions all over the US. Frida, however, is excited that she is pregnant; Diego is not so but is supportive of Frida.
Soon, however, Frida miscarries, and Frida is devestated. She paints a picture depicting the miscarriage and is just starting to recover when she receives word from Mexico that her mother is dying. Frida returns home in time, and shares a touching scene with her father. She learns also that her sister has left her abusive husband.
Frida returns to New York after her mother's death, and finds that Rockefeller is not happy with Diego's lobby painting because Stalin is depicted. Diego argues that the Rockefellers were aware of his Communist beliefs, but Rockefeller asks that the painting be changed. Diego refuses, and is subsequently fired. The painting is destroyed, and Diego loses his other commissions. Frida is tired of the States and convinces Diego to return to Mexico.
In Mexico, Diego and Frida live in separate houses, joined by a narrow bridge. Diego's house is disheveled, and he has not painted since New York. Frida takes in her sister, niece and nephew and gets her sister a job cleaning Diego's studio. This proves to be a disaster as Frida comes home with the children from a carnival one night to find her sister and Diego having sex. Frida throws them both out, and later leaves the house herself to live in a slum apartment. He cuts off her hair and starts drinking.
Lupe comes to visit Frida and convinces her to paint again, find work. Frida refuses to take money from Diego, saying she'd rather be poor.
While visiting her mother's grave on the feast of the Day of the Dead, Diego approaches timidly. He needs her help, Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) has been granted asylum in Mexico and needs a place to say. Will he stay at Frida's family home? Frida agrees, moves her father out and moves Trotsky and his wife in. Armed guards surround the house, as Frida and Diego get along famously with their new friend.
A trip to the pyramids brings Trotsky and Frida closer together as they talk about pain and her paintings. The two begin a clandestine affair, which Trotsky's wife quickly discovers. For the good of his marriage, Trotsky leaves Frida's house. Diego is upset that Trotsky is taking this risk, since many people are out to get him. When Diego learns of Frida's affair, he is angry.
Frida accepts a show in Paris, though she longs for a show in her native Mexico. A montage of scenes shows Frida in Paris being wined and dined, engaging in a fling with a black female singer (not named, but allegedly Frida has an affair with Josephine Baker in real life), and posing for Vogue. Diego reads the copy of Vogue in Mexico while having breakfast with a mistress. Frida returns home, and shortly afterward an attempt is made on Trotsky's life.
Diego meets with Frida, afraid for his own life because it is believed Diego ordered the hit. He has decided to go to California and asks Frida for a divorce, saying it would be better for them this way. Frida reluctantly agrees. Sad and alone, Frida drinks and feels sorry for herself. She winds up in a bar as an old woman (representing Death) sings. This scene is interspersed with a scene of Trotsky's murder.
Frida is detained for questioning. She refuses to give Diego's whereabouts and is sent to prison. Her sister visits, and the two reconcile. Diego arranges for her release, and Frida moves back into her family home, which is eventually painted the brilliant blue as seen at the beginning of the film. Christina is now caring for her, as Frida is getting progressively sicker. She loses the toes of one foot to gangrene.
Able to sit up one day, Frida is in the courtyard when Diego visits. He wants to remarry, and does not care that she is sick. The two reunite, and the relationship is as tempestuous and loving as ever. Frida is mostly bedridden now, and she makes Diego promise to have her body cremated.
Finally Frida is given her own show in Mexico, but she is unable to leave her bed. She wants to go, but Diego and her doctor will not let her leave the bed. Diego puts her wooden leg out of reach and goes on without her. At the gallery, Diego is making an impassioned speech about Frida and her work, and is interrupted when Frida's bed is carried into the gallery. Music plays, and Frida is toasted by family and friends.
Some time later, Frida is lying in bed and asks Diego (noticably older) to join her. She gives him a 25th anniversary gift, though the event is still a few weeks off. It is apparant here that Frida is not going to make it. The final scene shows an image of Frida lying in bed, with Death lying above her, as the bed bursts into flames.
Spoiled by Kathryn Lively - author of SAINTS PRESERVE US (Wings ePress, 2003)
Read the first two chapters for free at http://www.kathrynlively.com
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