Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on June 12th, 2003
This is the story of Frida Kahlo, now recognized as one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Most particularly, the film is the story of her tempestuous love affair with fellow artist Diego Rivera –their loves, their clashes, their politics, their infidelities, their betrayals, and so on. So much attention is paid to this relationship that Kahlo’s art itself slips into the background, which is too bad. That said, this is a tremendously engaging film, with great performances all round.It is also a spectacular movie to look at. If Kahlo’s art doesn’t take centre stage in the narrative, it does in the look of the film, informing almost every frame. The visual impact is not simply eye candy,however. Every colour is thematically relevant. This is a film made by creators very conscious of the visual possibilities of cinema.
The soundtrack to Frida is spectacular, and its importance is emphasized by the large role composer Elliot Goldenthal plays in the extras. The music, I am happy to report, sound wonderful, generating a strong sense of space all by itself. The sound effects run a distant second place to the music when it comes to the surround mix. Though there are environmental effects,they tend to be very faint, and could have used a bit of a volume boost. The dialogue is crystal-clear, and completely free of distortion.
The format is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and this is a gorgeous transfer. To call the colours vibrant would be to massively understate the case. The contrasts are incredible, the blacks, deep, the image perfectly sharp. But what you will retain are the colours, so deep and strong and bright that the television screen becomes the easel of a painting. Spectacular.
The extras are copious indeed. The menu’s main page, animated and scored, nicely encapsulates the major images of the film. The secondary pages are still, but scored. Disc 1comes with two commentaries: one by Julie Taymor, the other by Elliot Goldenthal. The latter is shorter, and you are presented with a menu to jump to the scenes where Goldenthal has something to say. Taymor’s commentary is sterling stuff — extremely articulate in explaining both how the film was made, but also why it was made the way it was. Goldenthal’s comments, it should be noted, are pretty good themselves, and in no way limited exclusively to the score.There’s also a 40-minute interview with Salma Hayek, which goes into far more depth than what is usually foisted on us in the guise of an interview. There are also trailers here: for Gangs of New York, Chicago, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Disc 2 has a raft of interviews and featurettes. Julie Taymor is featured in two interviews:a half-hour Q&A under the auspices of the American Film Institute, and a 20-minute segment from Bill Moyers’ show. Taymor continues to be very impressive. This is a woman with much to say, and she says it very well indeed. Goldenthal conducts a 16-minute interview with singer Chavela Vargas (who knew our protagonists), and is in turn interviewed by Hayek in a much shorter piece. Some of the featurettes are very short, but the focus of each is strong, and they cover cinematography, production design, more music (an interview with singer Lila Downs,footage of Hayek’s recording session for the CD), and the actual locations the film recreated.There are also two bits on the special effects. The most interesting is with the demented geniuses the Brothers Quay, who appear to be almost as strange as their work. The only dud in the bunch is “Portrait of an Artist,” which is the usual promo featurette. Finally, there are some brief biographical notes on Kahlo.
A veritable feast for the eyes, yet good for the brain too (and surprising at times in its lack of fear about the politics of its characters), Frida is top-notch viewing. The DVD package is a perfect complement to the film.