(R) 4 stars

(R) 4 stars
In the half-century since her mysterious death, Frida Kahlo has become something of an icon, her self-portraits emblazoned on everything from shower curtains to postage stamps. Frida"s singular image has become ubiquitous, but the artist herself has remained enigmatic. Julie Taymor"s magnificently messy Frida at last provides some insight into the heart and mind of Frida as an artist, and as a woman. The prospect of a Frida Kahlo biopic begs this question: How do you paint a portrait of one of the greatest self-portraitists of the 20th century? Wisely, Taymor doesn"t try. Instead, she has crafted a film with the look and feel of Frida"s paintings, a psychic as well as historical landscape in which Selma Hayek and a perfectly cast ensemble recreate significant images and events from Kahlo"s life. Frida begins shortly before Kahlo"s death, on the opening day of the first and only exhibition of her work in Mexico. Bed-ridden, she has herself loaded, bed and all, onto a flatbed truck to attend the exhibit. Frida is resolute, dedicated to her art above all else, and smiling through excruciating pain - with this one scene, Taymor provides a clever thumbnail sketch of her subject. The film"s most dazzling and talked-about scene surreally depicts the streetcar accident that nearly took Frida"s life, and forever changed it. In slow motion, a steel rod from the streetcar pierces Frida"s pelvis and vagina, and as she lies twisted and bleeding on the ground, broken glass and gold dust shower her broken body, rendering it grotesquely beautiful. After a painful convalescence during which Frida paints her first self-portraits, she meets muralist Diego Rivera (played with loutish charisma by Alfred Molina), soon beginning a tempestuous relationship with him that lasted until her death. Taymor handles the couple"s many affairs among their circle of oh-so-glamorous fellow boho Communists with sensual glee (watch for Hayek"s red-hot tango with Ashley Judd), save for Frida"s tender, brief relationship with the aging Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), which is treated gently. "Your paintings express what everyone feels - that they are alone, in pain," Trotsky tells Frida. Co-producer Hayek"s remarkable performance captures this existential contradiction, radiating equal parts irrepressible joy and exquisite agony, solemnity and jollity, loneliness and love of community. Rather than making her into a martyr or a monster (and she was certainly a little of both), Hayek and Taymor give Frida a libido, a sense of humor and a passion for life inextinguishable even by death itself. Certainly, the vision of Frida that Taymor and Hayek evoke isn"t overly concerned with facts, details and dates. Frida is vividly chaotic, romantic, unabashedly political and completely over the top - in short, a film Frida herself would have loved.

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