Content Warnings: Child loss (off-screen miscarriage); Gore & violence (depicted accident, blood); Substance use (drugs & alcohol)
Genre: Drama; Historical Romance
Directed by Julie Taymor
Written by Hayden Herrera (Kahlo’s biographer), Clancy Sigal, and Diane Lake
RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain
5/10 proud violets.
This review contains spoilers.
This biopic of the famous Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo (portrayed by Salma Hayek) exists on this blog for its positive portrayal of Kahlo’s fluid sexuality. While Kahlo’s bisexuality is not necessarily centered in the storytelling, for a film released in 2002 it is pleasantly free of homophobia and looks at Kahlo’s life with an unjudgmental eye.
My favorite Sapphic scene is when Kahlo dances with Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) in the middle of the party filled with artists and communist thinkers, especially when she kisses her full on the mouth in front of everyone without any qualms. The scene is notable, for no second thought is given to it. How wonderful it must have been to be surrounded by such openminded thinkers and creators in the 1940s! (And how wonderful for the filmmakers to portray it as such!)
The film is cinematically stunning in its surrealist dreamlike sequences that seek to situate Kahlo’s famous paintings within the context of her life, such as Las Dos Fridas (1939), Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), The Broken Column (1944), and The Wounded Deer (1946). While these scenes sometimes take you out of the flow of the biopic, their integration offers great insight into the wealth of meaning and interpretations possible for of each of these paintings.
Although Frida dies in the end, it’s not a great source of pain, for we know that she will. And, as a biopic, death is to be expected. Rather, this pain score stems from the dramatizations of Kahlo’s bus accident (which disables her and leaves her in tremendous pain for the rest of her life), her traumatic, gut-rending miscarriage, and the anguish caused by her husband Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina)’s repeat affairs.
Frida is a fabulous dramatization of the great painter’s life, even though the treatment of Frida’s disability is sometimes ableist. I do give this film a pass, for the attitudes toward disability represented here are historically accurate and do not dominate the narrative. Twenty years later, the film holds up. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s ahead of its time because of its acceptance and (dare I say) quiet championing of Friday’s bisexuality.