AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Julie Taymor (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Oct 2002
Duration (in mins):  122-123
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Cast: Salma Hayek  (Frida Kahlo)
  Mia Maestro  (Christina Kahlo)
  Amelia Zapata  (Maid)

Summary: In 1922 Mexico City, capricious schoolgirl Frida Kahlo lives with her father Guillermo, a German-Jewish photographer, and her stern Mexican-Indian mother Matilde in their family home, Casa Azul. One day Frida and her boyfriend Alex sneak into an auditorium and catch muralist Diego Rivera seducing his model. Frida startles the couple and tells the married Diego that she is “just keeping him honest.” Days later, when Frida dresses as a man for the family portrait at her sister Cristina’s wedding, Guillermo indulges her, believing in her creativity and independence, despite Matilde’s protests. One day in 1925, Frida is on a crowded city bus when a collision with a trolley crushes her leg and leaves her with severe spinal injuries. During subsequent grueling operations, Frida dreams of broken bones and the taunting skeletons of doctors and nurses talking about her slim chances for survival. After three weeks, Frida returns home in a full body cast to find that her beloved Alex is leaving for Paris. In order to endure the heartbreak and excruciating pain, Frida determinedly begins to draw, covering her cast in bright butterflies. Her parents, although nearly bankrupt from the operations, buy her an easel and place a mirror in the canopy above her bed, thus enabling Frida to begin a series of self-portraits. After an extensive recovery period, Frida regains her ability to walk and decides to take her paintings to the now famous Diego. After warning him that she is aware of his womanizing, Frida demands his honest opinion. Diego sincerely compliments her talents and invites her to a “radical” party held at photographer Tina Modotti’s house. At the party, Diego’s second wife Lupe Marín scoffs at Frida, insinuating that she is just another of Diego’s many lovers. Late that night, when Diego argues with competing painter David Alfaro Siqueiros about Communist politics, David retorts that the rich hire Diego only to “assuage their sense of guilt.” Infuriated, Diego shoots at David, but misses. Trying to break the tension, Tina offers to dance with the winner of a drinking contest. Frida quickly swallows half a bottle of liquor and leads Tina in a sultry dance. Over the following months, Diego, a Communist party leader, introduces Frida to a fervent political life and makes her his studio protégé. After he proposes that they take a vow to be only friends and colleagues, Frida kisses him. When a fun-loving affair grows into a romance, Diego proposes to Frida, promising to be loyal but not faithful. During the marriage ceremony, the middle-class Frida wears brightly colored traditional Mexican dress, which becomes her signature style and reflects her and Diego’s interest in pre-Hispanic Mexican culture. Soon after, Frida learns that Diego has leased an apartment to Lupe upstairs. Frida is furious, but after time, she and Lupe develop a friendship that helps Frida cope with Diego’s voracious appetite for food and women. When Diego is offered a solo show at a New York museum, the couple moves there. While Diego works and continues to have affairs, Frida entertains herself with the city’s attractions, movies and affairs of her own. While watching King Kong one day, Frida fantasizes that Diego is Kong and that she is his helpless victim. Although Diego enjoys his success and ensuing popularity in the New York art world, Frida despises the pretentious, ambitious crowd. Months into their stay, Frida becomes pregnant, but loses the child in a traumatic miscarriage. Demanding to see her child, Frida is given the miscarried fetus in a bottle of formaldehyde, which becomes a subject of her drawings. Soon after her recovery, Frida is called home to be with her dying mother, while Diego remains in New York to finish a mural for the Rockefeller Center lobby. When Diego refuses to remove a portrait of Lenin from the painting, Nelson Rockefeller orders the mural destroyed. As hundreds of people protest outside the building, Frida, who has returned to New York, assures Diego that his success resides in arousing the people’s passions and ideals, not in the finished work. After a Chicago commission is canceled that winter, the couple returns to Mexico City, where they live in separate studios connected by a bridge. Frida then hires divorced and impoverished Cristina to work with the depressed Diego in the studio, but soon after discovers Diego and her sister having sex. Pained by the betrayal, Frida announces to Diego, “There have been two accidents in my life. The trolley and you. You are by far the worst.” Moving into a run-down apartment, Frida shears her long hair and begins drinking heavily while continuing her work. Months later, on the Day of Dead, Diego finds Frida at her mother’s grave and asks her to take Communist Russian political refugee Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia into Casa Azul, where they will be protected by armed guards. Frida graciously invites the couple to the family home, where, during dinners with Diego, Frida and other compatriots, the charismatic Trotsky warns that both Hitler and Stalin have fallen victim to their own power. Frida, now accompanied by her pet monkey, continues to paint, creating surreal landscapes and cityscapes filled with death and suffering. One day on a group outing to the ruins of the Teotihuacan Pyramids, Trotsky compliments Frida on her ability to express universal pain and loneliness through her paintings, but Frida has little confidence in her work despite selling paintings to collectors. As the weeks pass, Frida and Trotsky grow closer and an affair begins, but when Natalia learns of the infidelity, Trotsky moves with his wife to another house. Frida explains to Diego that Trotsky sacrificed his pleasure with Frida to save his marriage, accusing Diego of being incapable of such depth of feeling. Offered a solo show in Paris, Frida enjoys a series of affairs there, but misses Diego and attributes the show’s success to Mexican exoticism. Soon after, when Trotsky and Natalia are murdered in Mexico, Diego asks Frida for a divorce and flees to California to avoid a possible Mexican jail sentence for his association with Trotsky. When Frida refuses to reveal Diego’s location during police interrogations, she is sentenced to prison, where she suffers a physical decline from the harsh conditions. After she is finally freed with Diego’s help, several of her toes must be amputated due to gangrene. Relegated to a wheelchair and forced to live in a cumbersome back brace, Frida continues to make self-portraits revealing the torture of living in her body. Diego, now wealthy from his commissions, misses Frida’s companionship and asks to marry her again. They move back into Casa Azul, where Cristina cares for her ailing sister, giving her daily injections to relieve her pain. In 1953, on the eve of her first solo exhibition in Mexico, Frida’s physician refuses her request to leave her bed and attend the opening; however, during Diego’s speech praising Frida’s ingenuity, to everyone’s surprise, Frida is carted into the gallery still in her bed. Two weeks before their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Frida gives her husband a silver ring to celebrate and asks that he cremate her upon her death. She writes in her journal, “I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return,” and dreams of her bed alight with fireworks that burn her body as she peacefully sleeps. 

Distribution Company: Miramax Film Corp.
Production Company: Ventanarosa Production
Lions Gate Films
Miramax Film Corp.
Director: Julie Taymor (Dir)
  Adrian Grunberg (1st asst dir)
  Peter Thorell (Key 2d asst dir)
  Alyson Latz (2d asst dir)
  Hugo Gutierrez (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Sarah Green (Prod)
  Salma Hayek (Prod)
  Jay Polstein (Prod)
  Lizz Speed (Prod)
  Nancy Hardin (Prod)
  Lindsey Flickinger (Prod)
  Roberto Sneider (Prod)
  Margaret Rose Perenchio (Exec prod)
  Brian Gibson (Exec prod)
  Mark Amin (Exec prod)
  Mark Gill (Exec prod)
  Jill Sobel Messick (Exec prod)
  Amy Slotnick (Exec prod)
  Ann Ruark (Co-prod)
Writer: Clancy Sigal (Scr)
  Diane Lake (Scr)
  Gregory Nava (Scr)
  Anna Thomas (Scr)
  Edward Norton (Contr wrt)

Subject Major: Frida Kahlo
  Mexico City (Mexico)
  Diego Rivera
Subject Minor: Assassination
  Automobile accidents
  Broken limbs
  Fathers and daughters
  New York City
  Portraits (Paintings)
  Leon Trotsky
  Wounds and injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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