Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Early in their marriage, Frida Kahlo tells Diego Rivera she expects him to be "not faithful, but loyal." She holds herself to the same standard. Sexual faithfulness is a bourgeois ideal that they reject as Marxist bohemians who disdain the conventional. But passionate jealousy is not unknown to them, and both have a double standard, permitting themselves freedoms they would deny the other. During the course of "Frida," Kahlo has affairs with Leon Trotsky and Josephine Baker (not a shabby dance card), and yet rages at Diego for his infidelities.
Julie Taymor's biopic tells the story of an extraordinary life. Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek), born of a German Jewish father and a Mexican mother, grew up in Mexico City at a time when it was a hotbed of exile and intrigue. As a student, she goes to see the great muralist Diego Rivera at work, boldly calls him "fat" and knows that he is the man for her.
Then she is almost mortally injured in a trolley crash that shatters her back and pierces her body with a steel rod. She was never to be free of pain again in her life and for long periods had to wear a body cast. Taymor shows a bluebird flying from Frida's hand at the moment of the crash, and later gold leaf falls on the cast: She uses the materials of magic realism to suggest how Frida was able to overcome pain with art and imagination.
Rivera was already a legend when she met him. Played by Alfred Molina in a great bearlike performance of male entitlement, he was equally gifted at art, carnal excess and self-promotion. The first time Frida sleeps with him, they are discovered by his wife, Lupe (Valeria Golino), who is enraged, of course, but such is Diego's power over women that after Frida and Diego are wed, Lupe brings them breakfast in bed ("This is his favorite. If you are here to stay, you'd better learn how to make it.") Frida's paintings often show herself, alone or with Diego, and reflect her pain and her ecstasy. They are on a smaller scale than his famous murals, and her art is overshadowed by his. His fame leads to an infamous incident, when he is hired by Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) to create a mural for Rockefeller Center, and boldly includes Lenin among the figures he paints. Rockefeller commands the mural to be hammered down from the wall, thus making himself the goat in this episode forevermore.