" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Featuring a stellar cast and the vivid artistic vision of director Julie Taymor, Frida is a lively account of one of art’s liveliest characters. Miramax’s new DVD has a great package of relevant extras that make it all the easier to appreciate the film.

The Toad and the Dove

Loaded with features, the DVD of Frida is an account of one of art's liveliest characters
Loaded with features, the DVD of Frida is an account of one of art’s liveliest characters

Salma Hayek (Fools Rush In) fleshes out the part-tragic and part-inspirational life of Frida Kahlo, who was bed-ridden as a teenager after a terrible traffic accident in 1922, in Mexico City. Finding freedom of mind, if not body, in painting, Frida pulled inspiration from her surroundings and her own life.

After a startlingly speedy recovery, Frida (Hayek) regains her ability to walk. With a burning desire and stubbornness, she begins a career in painting that eventually sees her climb the social ladder, travel the world, and endure the tormenting infidelity of her husband and mentor, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina, Raiders of the Lost Ark).

A self-described toad of a man, Diego was a charmer addicted to sex. Frida, on the other hand, was his dove, driven to the brink by his liaisons, including a tryst with her very own sister. Through the turmoil, Frida would find consolation and friendship in Diego’s ex-wife, Lupe Marin (Valeria Golino, Respiro).

While a movie with less of Diego would have been more enjoyable, their lives were so entangled, reality simply doesn’t allow for that alteration.

Pre-Madonna

Frida’s Bohemian life intertwines with revolutionaries, tycoons and spies, including people of major historical significance such as Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush, Shine) and Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton, The Italian Job) along with David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas, Original Sin) and Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood).

Aided by Elliot Goldenthal’s Oscar-winning score, Frida recreates not only Mexico of the early 1900s, but also the bygone glamour of 1930s Paris and New York.

Frida’s was an amazing life. Putting it on film was a formidable challenge that was deftly matched by the formidable talent of Taymor and Hayek, whose friends chipped in to make this project a labor of love. Together, they resurrect a life that sought its own path, ignoring or bypassing the obstacles. Frida’s spirit of individuality and survival would go on to inspire not only Hayek, but also Madonna, who sought her own identity in the 1980s.

Taymor, best known for bringing Disney’s The Lion King to Broadway and for her controversial film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus, weaves together a classy, savvy tapestry that brings to life Frida’s paintings. In doing so, Taymor takes Frida out of the realm of simple biopic and creates her own work of art.

DVD Extras: Disc One

Overall, the DVD’s supplements do a thorough job of providing a sense of the effort involved in making Frida, as well as offering insight into the real life players and places involved.

Disc One includes the film and a running commentary from Taymor that is most helpful for putting events and people into historical context and for defining the film’s own artistic aspirations. Very matter-of-fact in her demeanor, Taymor avoids standard flattering and self-congratulatory claptrap, preferring to keep to the story of the film’s making.

Also on the disc is a selected-scenes commentary track from composer Goldenthal, who often simply states the obvious. In this case, a featurette might have been more effective than jumping from scene to scene for a simple comment or two. Also, there’s no “play all” option, making it a bit tedious to hear what the composer has to say.

Hayek also speaks up with a 38-minute video “conversation.” It’s more like a one-sided chat and at times it’s easy to get lost in her thoughts as there’s no transition from subject to subject; there’s no real sense of direction. Nonetheless, Hayek does offer some good input as to what it took to get the film made, including the revelation that co-star Norton also contributed considerable, and uncredited, effort in the writing of the screenplay.

DVD Extras: Disc Two

Disc Two contains the majority of the supplemental materials and it’s a relief the bulk of the behind-the-scenes footage doesn’t involve a bunch of people hovering over computers while they generate digital special effects.

While the film does make use of some subtle digital effects, Frida’s world takes a step back to the world of puppetry. A segment on Amoeba Proteus, the special effects shop, concisely offers an explanation of their input. The segment with the Brothers Quay, who created the film’s creepy Day of the Dead-inspired puppet-based hospital nightmare, is too brief.

Also included are a 30-minute American Film Institute interview/question and answer session with Taymor as well as a Bill Moyers interview with Taymor.

Other features include an interview with singer Chavela Vargas, a Frida contemporary, and a segment on Tango singer Lila Downs. A segment on Hayek’s recording session as she belts out a tune after lubing her pipes with a little alcohol is a nice inclusion simply for its presentation of the collaboration of Hayek, Taymor and Goldenthal in action.

Rounding out the package are some facts about Frida Kahlo, a segment entitled The Vision, Design and Music of Frida, which covers the topics promised, and a segment on the Real Locations of Frida’s Life and Art, which is nicely done, but far too short.

Finally, a segment entitled Portrait of an Artist winds up repeating much of what was shown before, but it has the added attraction of more input from the cast, particularly Judd and Molina.

Picture and Sound

Presented in Widescreen 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, the disc’s picture is acceptable, if not exceptional.

The disc’s Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround allows Goldenthal’s score to jump to life and serves as a showcase as to why Goldenthal won multiple awards for his work on the film.

While it seems a little odd for a film like Frida to not have a Spanish language track on the disc, there are Spanish subtitles and a French language track.