Warning: watching Frida may lead to an intense desire for tango lessons and large bottles of tequila. Frida is Frida Kahlo, the legendary Mexican artist and socialist who was born around 1910. She was married to the equally larger than life muralist Diego Rivera. She had a tempestuous relationship with Diego, an art career that took her all over the world, and a notorious social life before her early death in 1954.
Frida, patron saint of hirsute drag queens, has evolved in the popular imagination to such a mythic level that any movie about her is destined for intense scrutiny and critique.
She is supremely iconic for both Latina/os and queers because of her ability to honor and challenge the traditions of her culture while espousing new ideas and concepts in political philosophy, sexuality, and art.
In a way she has bridged these two conflicting cultures post-mortem.
The biographic film Frida opens with the rich colors of an interior landscape. Frida (Salma Hayek) is set up in her bed like one of her paintings, and the self-reflective theme of her art is symbolized through the mirror set over the bed.
The Oscar-nominated Hayek plays both the younger and older Frida, and she does a fantastic job as both the idealistic, intellectual youngster and the mature, world-weary artist.
We are introduced to Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), her future husband and lecherous but charming older artist, before her life-changing accident at age eighteen. She is involved in a major accident that involves a metal rod piercing her back and breaking her pelvis. She has multiple injuries from this accident and ends up in a body cast for a long time with bouts of chronic pain for the rest of her life.
But this accident ignites her artistic career, which is still celebrated today.
The film depicts this contradiction of fate not just through her life, but with the beautiful and tragic surroundings of Mexico that it is set in.
Early on in the film, Frida asserts her difference and sexual liberation by having sex with her boyfriend in her parents’ home and posing for a family portrait in a full suit, dressed as a man. This is in 1920s Mexico — a conservative Catholic country, so it is unexpected to see her father (Roger Rees) dote on her shocking behavior, even going so far as to joke about her cross-dressing with “I always wanted a son.”