If Marcia Gay Harden won an Oscar for playing the long-suffering wife of a tortured artist in Pollock, Salma Hayek should win two for Frida: she plays both the long-suffering wife and the tortured artist. Certainly the life of artist Frida Kahlo offered enough pain for several tour de force performances. Julie Taymorís account doesnít even make time for the polio that crippled Kahlo at age six, instead jumping straight to the bus accident that wiped her out at age 18, leaving her impaled, naked, drenched with blood, and dusted with gold sprinkles (a party favor carried by another passenger). The injuries never fully healed (she died in 1954, at age 47), and the image, like an icon of martyrdom, is one of many stunners in this visually lush homage.
Unfortunately, the film never gets much beyond the icon stage. Hayek brings a flashy dignity and tasteful passion to the role, and her reverence for the self-mythologizing painter and feminist paragon will offend and enlighten no one. As for what Kahlo described as the other "big accident" in her life, her marriage to Diego Rivera, Alfred Molina plays the 300-pound bacchic muralist with a mix of exuberance, frailty, rue, and fury that is the filmís real award-worthy performance. Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller and Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky (taking a break from dictating his History of the Russian Revolution to play grab-ass with Frida) add an almost farcical note.
But if Taymor fails to portray the artist or her times, she does touch on the mystery of artistic creation. Such mundane details as a peasant dress or toes peering out of bathwater burst into playful, profound collages of the imagination at work. The beauty of Taymorís vision of how the paintings were inspired at times exceeds that of the paintings themselves. (119 minutes)