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Frida (2002)

September 26th, 2007 · 3 Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

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As a frail Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) is carried from home in her bed, her memory takes her back to 1922, when she attends the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. Her sister Cristina (Mía Maestro) is getting married, but Frida flaunts society’s norms, dressing in a man’s suit for the family photo, and having sex with her boyfriend (Diego Luna) in a closet. She plans to be a portrait artist, but a fatal accident immobilizes her in bed, forcing Frida to turn her artistic focus inward.

She seeks an opinion of her work from famed muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). He takes her under his wing, introducing her to his radical friends, including photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd). He asks Frida to marry him. She accepts, despite Rivera refusing to pledge fidelity. She later realizes that her neighbor is Rivera’s possessive ex-wife Lupe (Valeria Golino). She looks after Frida, trying to convince her that Rivera will never be anyone’s husband.

Frida accompanies Rivera to New York, where he’s been given a commission by Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) to paint a mural in Rockefeller Plaza. After miscarrying a child, Frida takes Rivera back to Mexico City with her, where he sinks into depression. Their marriage dissolves, but the arrival of exiled Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) brings them together again.

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The role of Frida Kahlo had been contested among several actresses for years. Madonna wanted to play her at one point. Laura San Giacomo won the part in a film to be directed by Luis Valdez, based on Martha Zamora’s biography Frida: Brush of Anguish. Objections over San Giacomo’s ethnicity by a vocal minority led to her eventual replacement by Jennifer Lopez. Produced by Francis Coppola, the Valdez project was to shoot in May 2001 after J. Lo finished Enough.

Production history 
Miramax Films had their own Frida Kahlo project – to star Salma Hayek and be directed by Julie Taymor – and what most considered to be the superior script, adapted by Clancy Sigal and Diane Lake and Gregory Nava & Anna Thomas and Edward Norton from the book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. Taymor was going to be ready to shoot two months before the J. Lo version, which conceded and was canceled.

Hayek – who shares an even more uncanny physical resemblance with Kahlo than Laura San Giacomo does – had been negotiating to play the charismatic painter for eight years, almost as long as she’d been recognizable in the U.S. By the time the film finally went before the cameras, she’d reduced her salary to the SAG minimum of $70,000.

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Shot for only $12 million, Frida received good reviews and played well for audiences who saw it. Miramax threw the film in their Oscar cuisinart fall of 2002, along with Gangs of New York and Chicago. Frida received six Academy Award nominations – including Best Actress for Hayek – but never got the marketing push lavished on the gang movie, or the song and dance movie. The Frida movie came and went from theaters.

Frida was never going to be a hit with mass audiences – there’s no Hobbits in it – but for anyone with an interest in art or Mexican culture, this is the best narrative film that anybody could have possibly made about Frida Kahlo. Julie Taymor – who directed the stage version of The Lion King – employs a playful and highly imaginative approach to Kahlo’s life, with a very good script and one of the most prestigious casts of the decade.

There was a lot in the film that blew me away, from the courageous performances, to the vivid color palette, to some fantastic staging Taymor uses to express Kahlo’s internal landscape (puppeteers Brothers Quay designed one of the sequences). In the end, I don’t know if Kahlo’s life or her achievements are on par with even someone like Tina Modotti, but the film has a passion and sense of humor Kahlo might have recognized.

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“Hayek delivers an emotional, intense and ultimately joyful film that touches the soul and grabs at the imagination,” writes Crazy For Cinema.

Nigel Watson at Talking Pictures says, “My overall impression of the film is that it’s just another glossy Hollywood view of a struggling artist.”

“Technically the film looks amazing … Still, the whole thing is a bit too mannered to let us in personally. It’s more observational than involving. But what an amazing story to watch,” writes Rich Cline at Shadows on the Wall.

“Alcoba Azul”. View Salma Hayek & Ashley Judd’s beguiling tango scene. Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Animation · Based on book · Bathtub scene · Dreams and visions · Master and pupil · Road trip · Unconventional romance

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 clancy sigal // Sep 28, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks very much for the notice. All in all, it took l4 years for this picture to be made. Persistence, patience and perseverance.

    Clancy Sigal

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Sep 29, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Clancy: Thanks for writing a terrific movie. I took a date to see Frida when it opened and recall feeling I’d made a pretty good selection afterwards. Passion and sense of humor are a rare combination in movies, and this production in particular was a class act all the way.

  • 3 M. Durón // Oct 3, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Can see merit in this motion picture being made, particularly regarding Albert Molina’s committed performance, the soundtrack and the cinematography, less so the less-than-memorable dialogues.

    Some mention might be made regarding the similarity between Julie Taymor’s setting and execution of Frida’s and Tina Modotti’s (Ashley Judd) tango scene and that between characters Anna Quadri (Dominique Sanda) and Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) in Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘Il Conformista’ (1970).

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