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Salma Hayek Brings Mexican Artist's Story to Theaters in <i>Frida</i> - 2002-10-30

Salma Hayek stars as Frida Kahlo in a vividly realized film based on the life and loves of the famous Mexican artist. Alan Silverman has a look at Frida.

Frida Kahlo was just 47-years-old when she died in 1954; but her short life was a potent mix of pain and passion. She overcame childhood polio, a nearly fatal traffic accident when she was a teenager and her stormy relationship with fellow artist and political radical Diego Rivera.

"It was a very difficult story to know how to tell," says Salma Hayek.

Hayek is also producer of Frida and the Mexican-born actress spent almost a decade trying to find the best way to portray the artist's story.

"I had the opportunity to do the film twice and I was not convinced with what we had,: she explains. "I didn't think all the elements were in the right place. So it was not just about making the movie; it was about making the right movie. I think to make a good story about somebody who was alive [I hate the word ' Biography'} you have to pick something that everyone can identify with. In 'Amadeus' it's a story about jealousy, but you use [Mozart] as the backdrop. So to find what it is about this story that is the one thing everyone can identify with, and is the most important to me, was a long process." In Frida, that one thing, according to Hayek, is the love story of Kahlo and Rivera.

Alfred Molina co-stars as Diego Rivera and says it was important to show his crass womanizing as well as his great talent.

"I think when you're playing a character who either still exists or has existed, and certainly someone as prominent as Diego Rivera, I think your first responsibility is not to misrepresent them," he says. "In other words, not do a whitewash and sort of clean them up, make them acceptable or clean up their less savory edges, but just not misrepresent the truth about them. So if it happens to be a person who history now tells us was rather unpleasant in some way or another, honor that. You don't have to make him likeable, but just tell the truth."

Frida is directed by Julie Taymor, whose colorful and innovative stage work includes the award winning musical The Lion King. To tell the artist's story in Frida, Taymor decided to recreate some of Kahlo's art on screen as a living tableau.

"Frida Kahlo painted her own life," explains Taymor. "You could see the moments where the paintings must have come to fruition in her mind. I figured if I could put those peices together. Frida Kahlo painted her own life. You could see the moments where the paintings must have come into fruition in her mind. I figured if I could put those peices together in the sophisticated, naive style of Frida..... through animation... when you finally see the paintings the audience maybe would say 'oh I understand why she painted her Tehuana dress in the middle of the New York City skyline.' It's just not just a painting. You go back to the story that made this painting happen."

Salma Hayek also portrays Kahlo's fiery and adventurous passions; but the actress and producer is just as passionate about how the film portrays her heritage.

"I think it's a story that shows Mexico in a light that hasn't been seen before. In the particular period of time that Frida lived, Mexico was the nucleus for a lot of sophisticated minds that were kicked out of their countries because they were threatening in some way to those countries," she says. "They found refuge in Mexico, so it was a Bohemian atmosphere and a group of people eager to change the world and have new ideas. I really wanted to show this part of my country and this extraordinary woman that inspired me because of her courage to be unique, always, in everything she did."

The 'bohemian' circle in Frida includes Geoffrey Rush as revolutionary Leon Trotsky; Antonio Banderas is painter David Siqueros; Ashley Judd plays photographer Tina Modotti and Edward Norton, who co-wrote the script, plays American millionaire Nelson Rockefeller. Frida was filmed on location in Mexico.