Tuesday, 26 June 2012

“Frida” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 2002 Film Now Reissued On A 2012 BLU RAY.

 

                                        
 "…Radical And Courageous And Very Romantic…"
 

I had a feeling that this would be an exceptional BLU RAY reissue and I'm glad to be proven right.

The picture quality is uniformly gorgeous and highlights the vivid array of expertly researched detail the 150-strong production company filled every scene with - Mexican clothing, terracotta interiors, chaotic art studios and colonial South American buildings. Its default aspect is 1.78:1 - so it fills the entire screen without stretching or loss of clarity. You combine this with a sympathetically-written script, brilliant acting and a genuinely affecting and unfolding story (never mind the huge amount of EXTRAS transferred in full from the DVD - see list below) and the whole experience is a joy to re-watch and re-discover.

The first thing that strikes you about the print is that 'colour' is everywhere. It opens in Mexico in 1922 when Frida Kahlo is a precocious 15 year-old and able-bodied (before her horrific accident) and over the course of the movie progresses nearly 30 years hence - so lighting - textures - interiors - all have to be matched. The Blues, Reds, Yellows and Gold are full on and evoke a Mexico of the period (all beautifully done by Production Designer Felipe Fernandez - Oscar nominated for his work here).

The autobiographical nature of her art is captured in cleverly woven-in scenes and her painful injuries/nightmares are portrayed at times by grotesque animation peopled from her canvas creations. Frida suffered back pain all her life (an iron rod skewered her abdomen and uterus in the accident) and famously painted lying down with a mirror over her bed (she later had toes and a leg amputated due to her injuries). Yet she defied all expectations and after two years in casts managed to walk again. Taymor's movie fills the screen with this - her spirit, her driving need to matter and her bisexual lovelife and gender-bender dress sense. This is a world where politics and passion are seething in the streets - and boozy nights are spent discussing the first and engaging in the second...

The cast is large and seriously talented - and Frida is a role Salma Hayek openly admits she'd always wanted to play. The worst you could say about her performance is that her beauty and astonishing sensuality sometimes hinder believability. But she gives her all and her supporting cast are so well chosen that her film-star looks get quickly forgotten. Given the depth and difficulty of the part - her nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role is richly deserved.

And while Ashley Judd (her dialogue discussing their marriage titles this review), Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas, and Roger Rees all contribute their vignettes with heart and commitment - the film's real ace-in-the-hole is ALFRED MOLINA. He is simply astonishing as Diego Rivera - the Mexican murals painter who married Frida in 1929 at the age of 43 when she was only 22. Diego was a fat ugly man who became her mentor, lover and on/off husband for 25 years. Loveable one minute, loathsome the next - the film is so much better because he's in it (Salma sings his praises in the extras). A lecher, habitual womanizer and a serious-minded Communist - it's a ludicrously difficult part to nail - yet Molina is never anything less than brilliant. Charming at first when he's getting what he wants (wooing Frida in the alley outside his studio) - then to his wandering glassy eyes as infidelity creeps to the surface (watching her sing at a party, but eyeing the other women there) - he later crosses the line completely by sleeping with her sister (fathered a child by her too). The big question is - why did a woman as committed to loyalty as Frida countenance this boor for even a second? Friends gave their union 'two months' - her own mother described their marriage as being between "...an elephant and a dolphin..." The answer the film tells us is LOVE.

In interviews, Director Julie Taymor states that both she and Salma returned to Frida's diaries and found they were not about betrayal and men-as-pigs (as many feminists feel) - they were all about Diego and her. Frida really loved him - admired him - supported him. Of course she wanted to slit his throat on several occasions - and was ultimately broken by him (the scene where she cuts her hair is particularly powerful) - but she seemed to stick with his first wife's advice to accept the rough with the smooth because the overall gain was worth it ("...He's the best of friends and the worst of husbands."). It's an odd relationship in an oddball world. Yet both Hayek and Molina are so believable that when the film morphs from one of her paintings of the married couple standing in a room into the actors playing them - it's hard to tell the difference. Taymor (who devoted almost two years of her life to the project) does well to rescue Frida from self-pity and loathing - showing instead her courage and joie-de-vive - her fierce loyalty no matter what. Her partner Elliot Goldenthal also provided the film with a beautifully apt Latin guitar score (for which he won the Oscar).

To sum up - it was never going to be an easy task to film the life of this icon of Mexican art (Frida) and interpret her tumultuous lifelong relationship with another free soul (Diego) - yet both June Taymor and Salma Hayek pulled it off admirably. It was nominated for six Oscars and won two - Best Make Up and Best Original Music. You can't help but think it should have won more (especially for its two leads)...

A quality BLU RAY reissue then - and like a good political knees-up with Leon Trotsky - wholeheartedly recommended.

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio [Full Screen]
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
SUBTITLES: English, English for the Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing, Spanish

EXTRAS:
1. (Feature Length) Audio Commentary by Julie Taymor (Director)
2. A Conversation With Salma Hayek - Lead Actress Playing Frida Kahlo (near-40 minute facing-camera interview covering all aspects of the shoot)
3. AFI (American Film Institute) Q&A with Julie Taymor conducted 2 Oct 2002 by Deszo Magyar (30 minutes)
4. Bill Moyers Interview With Julie Taymor (19 minutes)
5. Chavela Vargas Interview - A 93-year old Mexican Lady Singer who knew Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Subtitled, 15 Minutes)
6. The Voice Of Lila Downs - a Mexican Singer-Songwriter who sang some of the music for the soundtrack (5 minutes)
7. The Vision Of Frida with Rodrigo Prieto (Cinematographer) and Julie Taymor (6 minutes)
8. The Design of Frida with Felipe Fernandez (Production Designer) (near 3 minutes)
9. The Music of Frida with Elliot Goldenthal and Salma Hayek (5 mnutes)
10. Salma's Recording Session - she sings "La Bruja" (near 3 minutes)
11. Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life And Art To Film: A Walk Through The Real Locations.
Felipe Fernandez talks of his painters, designers and architects who recreated Frida and Diego's home "The Blue House".
They did the courtyard, the vivid wall colours, the cacti, her bed with the mirror above, framed Communist imagery.
Later in the film they recreate Diego's modernist home where the couple hosted Trotsky etc (near 6 minutes)
12. Portrait Of An Artist - clips from the film mixed with interviews with Julie Taymor, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd and two Producers (14 minutes)
13. "Amoeba Proteus" - Visual FX Piece (near 10 minutes)
14. "The Brothers Quay" - Visual FX Piece (1 minute)
15. Bookmarks - allows you to bookmark portions of the film

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