"Frida" chronicles the life Frida Kahlo shared unflinchingly and openly with Diego Rivera, as the young couple took the art world by storm. From her complex and enduring relationship with her mentor and husband to her illicit and controversial affair with Leon Trotsky, to her provocative and romantic entanglements with women, Frida Kahlo lived a bold and uncompromising life as a political, artistic, and sexual revolutionary.
Biopics about well-regarded artists are difficult to pull off. And I'm not just referring to the challenge of appeasing admirers. The issue is with how to approach the material — an honest, humanizing portrayal of the subject, or a celebration of their life's work, or a simple love letter romanticizing their legacy. Working from a script that required five writers, including Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas of 'El Norte' and an uncredited Edward Norton, director Julie Taymor, it seems, wants to do it all in her portrait of Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. She makes this fairly clear from the start as we watch four men carry the bed-ridden artist out of the famous "Casa Azul" and onto the back of a large truck. On the ride to her gallery exhibit, Kahlo (Salma Hayek) looks at the mirror above and reminisces on her life.
'Frida' is not a character study and does not follow standard biopic plotlines, by which I mean a straightforward story from meager beginnings to a grandiose conclusion. Taymor imagines Frida's life through the eyes of the artist herself, hence the opening with the mirror. This can also be seen when examining her works, particularly her amazing self-portraits. They capture a sense of loss, alienation, psychological anguish and spiritual confinement in a unique, childlike style that eludes definition. Place them in order of when they were painted, and you'll find the progression of a woman's life in a kind of heartbreaking regression. Or at least, that's the impression she leaves behind — a life filled with pain and a few pockets of tenderness.
Taymor's film brings Frida Kahlo to the screen in much the same way, drawing our attention to her highly-expressive paintings as they relate to various events in her life. It starts with the unfortunate bus accident that left her in slow physical deterioration, a scene that alludes to one of Kahlo's works, but ironically led to her unleashing a talent for intensely telling art. As with other movies by Taymor ('Titus,' 'Across the Universe,' 'The Tempest'), and much like the female subject of this film, 'Frida' comes with a visually-striking approach that's potently moving and creative. With equally talented cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto behind the camera, the narrative moves from one beautifully arresting moment to the next, similar to how Frida traced her own life.
At the same time, these moments reveal the painter as the person she truly was. With Hayek's remarkable performance leading the way, we sympathize with the hot-tempered but explosively passionate artist, known for deliberately fibbing about her past in order to fabricate her own history. Beyond the pretty images on screen, this is the story of a complex woman at various points in her life. We see an enthusiastic girl enjoying her youth, her relationship with family and a search for finding her place in the world. We see a wife battling an emotionally-draining marriage with famous muralist and known womanizer Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). And most importantly, we see a woman suffering the physical and psychological damages of a long-ago accident and conveying that pain on blank canvases with lots of bright, animated colors.
For all its beauty and energetic creativity, however, Julie Taymor's film doesn't exactly generate the emotional impact it probably aims for. We're not left with an overwhelming admiration for the historical figure named Frida Kahlo. But as a story of a life lived and told in moving images evocative of those she painted, the biopic reveals Frida Kahlo, the person, and gives an appreciation for her artwork. 'Frida' opens with looking at the artist's life as she portrayed it, a scene brilliantly suggestive of nearly all her self-portraits via a mirror, and it closes with a scene borrowed directly from Kahlo's The Dream. Her story begins in paintings and also ends within them, the way she likely would want to be remembered.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment releases 'Frida' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed inside a blue eco-cutout keepcase. At startup, the disc kicks off with a series of trailers from the studio's catalog, and then fills the screen with a normal main menu, full-motion clips and music.
Using what appears to be the same master for the DVD releases, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is actually not in bad shape. In fact, details around fine objects are quite sharp and revealing with great texture on various fabrics of clothing and the facial complexions of actors. The video comes with plenty of visibility and clarity in the far distance, showing very well-defined lines on the edges of buildings and wooden furniture inside houses. The color palette is richly saturated and vibrant with beautifully-rendered primaries, intimating Kahlo's paintings and filling the screen with life. Reds, in particular, take a prominent role and make the picture pop with a passionate flair. Contrast is comfortably bright with crisp whites while black levels appear true with excellent shadow delineation. Although a remaster of the original negatives would be preferred, this high-def transfer looks great nonetheless and will likely satisfy fans.
The audio is pretty much equal to the video and makes a very fine addition, augmenting several key moments with great emotional impact. This is really mostly thanks to the song selections and Elliot Goldenthal's affecting score, which bleed into the rears and immersing listeners. The back speakers are silent by design, so the music does terrifically in enhancing the soundfield without seeming forced or distracting.
The rest of the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is generally a front-heavy affair with excellent channel separation and flawless panning between channels. Being a dialogue-driven film, vocals take priority and delivered with exceptional lucidity, as each character's accent is clear and every tonal inflection precise. The mid-range is surprisingly expansive and detailed, creating a very wide presentation with clarity and convincing off-screen effects. Low bass is understandably restrained for a biopic drama, but the few scattered moments of action come with some appropriately punchy weight. It's may not feature lots of exciting and thrills, but the music is more than enough to make this worthwhile lossless mix.
Lionsgate ports over the same set of bonus materials from the two-disc DVD.
Julie Taymor imagines the life of Frida Kahlo through the eyes of the artist herself, exploring the events behind her paintings. With cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto behind the camera and wonderful performances in front of, the biopic drama is a visually arresting film expressing the Mexican painter's psychological and physical anguish through gorgeous photography that's evocative of her artwork. The Blu-ray comes with a very good picture quality and a strong audio presentation. The same supplements are ported over from the two-disc DVD, making this a nice upgrade for admirers of both the film and the artist.