Our experiment with biopics and films based on true stories draws to a close! This week, we break away from the subtheme of dirtbag men…and yet still manage to get our share of dirtbaggery. We’re talking about women in the art world, after all–specifically, a painter who is now one of the world’s most renowned.
This biopic follows the life of Frida Kahlo from her school days through relationship with muralist Diego Rivera and her own success as a painter.
In the 1920s, a young Frida is a free-spirited student. Close with her family, and especially so with her father, Frida boldly proclaims she will never marry. Posing for her sister’s wedding photos in a men’s suit, it’s clear from the start this is a woman determined to live on her own terms.
Tragically, Frida’s schooling is cut short when a streetcar accident leaves her temporarily paralyzed and in chronic pain for the rest of her life. Though she is eventually able to walk again, Frida’s time confined to her bed changes the path of her life–the only thing she is able to do all day is paint self-portraits.
With medical bills piling up, Frida is determined to contribute to the household. In a fateful move, she demands acclaimed muralist Diego Rivera critique her work and tell her if it’s good enough to make a living. Impressed with her painting, Rivera quickly takes her under his wing and brings her into the Communist party crowd. And I mean party in multiple senses of the word.
Both Frida and Diego drink a LOT. While Diego gets angry and argumentative at parties, Frida opts for flirting with ladies in slinky dresses. Even as Diego agrees he and Frida will be friends only, the two begin a sexual relationship. Despite neither believing in marriage, it’s not long before the two have said their vows (and almost everyone in their circle places a bet on how long their wedded bliss will last).
Not long, is the answer. Frida is furious when she learns Diego’s ex lives in the apartment above theirs while she finds a place of her own. After an angry confrontation, Frida ends up with a new friend who teaches her to make the mole Diego loves.
Though Diego sleeps around, he promises loyalty to Frida if not fidelity. The two get into SO MANY fights that often end with broken kitchenware, but they always make up.
Meanwhile, Diego faces critique from members of his own party for the government-sponsored murals he paints. Diego argues his murals spread a socialist message for the people, though other Communists believe painting for the government makes him complicit in their policies.
Tired of this fight, Diego accepts an invitation to New York for an exhibition of his work. Frida travels with him as she learned from Diego’s ex to never leave him to his own devices. However, Frida instantly hates the idolization of wealth and ambition she encounters in the States, and the false smiles on every face. Diego, on the other hand, loves the praise, admiration, and number of women always on his arm. When Diego pushes things too far by including Lenin in a commissioned mural, the couple finally returns home to Mexico.
Frida’s spirits lift, but Diego falls into a deep depression. When he has an affair with Frida’s sister, who has recently left her abusive husband, Frida is finally sick of this shit and moves away. She once again drinks A LOT, both alone and at parties.
That is, until Diego, who has agreed to host the exiled Trotsky, asks for her help in welcoming him to the country. This plan works a little too well when Frida begins a relationship with Trotsky.
Eventually, Frida and Diego make up (IDK if this counts as a spoiler?), though her mobility and overall health decline. Bedridden when she finally has an exhibition in her own country, Frida is determined to be at the opening. What’s an artist to do?
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I just love Frida. Truly, has a more fascinating human ever existed? Salma Hayek captures her energy, intelligence, and charisma here. The film blends some surreal elements with life in a way that feels very Frida, and frequently weaves her paintings into the story. Since her paintings are so personal, placing her work in the context of her life gives us a greater understanding of the pain behind them.
The film doesn’t shy away from Frida’s chronic pain, bisexuality, or infamously turbulent relationship with Diego. I enjoy that other characters sometimes directly ask why Frida stays married to Diego in spite of everything, and the non-judgmental approach the film takes in response. Whether we as a contemporary audience understand or accept her reasons, as a human of flaws and contradictions, they are her own.
I will say the one thing I do really like about this film’s portrayal of Diego is his encouragement of Frida’s art. She constantly dismisses her own talent, but Diego frequently tells her and others what a skilled painter she is.
I’m obsessed with this film and its subject, even as it proves that behind every great woman is a dirtbag man.