Frida (2002)

time travel by armchair south of the border
time travel by armchair south of the border | Source

Lest it be forgot: Mexico matters

There are few countries today as important to America as Mexico. This is not because of what Mexico can do for America; rather, it is because of what America can do for Mexico. Clearly, Mexico needs help. Certainly, America can offer assistance. If the sum total of America's relationship to her southern neighbor amounts to beefing up the border patrol and building a thicker and taller wall, then facts speak for themselves. Isolationism and mercenarism, in retrospect, will have been her calling. So be it. But it does not have to be that way. NAFTA is as fine a first step in the right direction as any. Alone, however, it has solved only a fraction of the problems that have beset this great if impoverished country. It is practically self-explanatory that a safer and more affluent Mexico is in America's best interests. And it can be accomplished.

That said, Frida is a movie and not by any means a plea, though aid in terms of economics and medicine and education and, in general, infrastructure, should be automatically forthcoming. The dividends that a healthier Mexico could pay are incalculable. It is in reality a rich country. It only suffers from shortcomings in leadership, corruption, and mismanagement -- largely the same as here. Also, there is no telling whether or not Mexico would welcome American intervention even if it were totally above board. The idea seems sound and the movie goes a long ways toward explaining what is so good about Mexico apart from material assets. It is evident in the very heart and soul that Salma Hayek expresses in hundreds of elegantly nuanced ways in her performance as the artist, Frida Kahlo. Together, Ms. Hayek, and her co-star, Alfred Molina, as the artist Diego Rivera, are at their finest. They make it virtually impossible to think of the radicals they play without simultaneously envisioning these two actors.

If things really do come in threes, then the third aspect that serves to define this film and all that it calls to mind is Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush). Trotsky's reputation rests primarily on having been Minister of War under Vladimir Lenin. But there were other sides to the man. He wrote a compelling work of literary criticism, too -- Literature and Revolution (1923). Chased from Russia by Stalin, with whom he might otherwise have competed for control of the communist state, Trotsky eventually went to Mexico. Not only did he obtain refuge from President Cardenas, but it was Rivera and Kahlo who actually provided him with a home and friends. Ultimately, an assassin caught him. Politics should not be so ugly, and these adversaries were actually on the same side. Nevertheless, Trotsky's differences with Stalin actually informed for a while the world of artistic production that once was heavily into the Comintern, then not. Most American Lefties resigned, for lack of a better term, years before the Red Scare gave way to blacklists, witch hunts, and mock trials. However, it has to be said, that without party membership and the impossible ideals it proclaimed, the best that Clifford Odets, Dashiell Hammett, and Aaron Copland had to offer simply dissipated.

The final word on either Stalin or Trotsky has not yet been written. But the blueprint for art called socialist realism that Stalin forced artists to adhere to had, at best, mixed results. Among the casualties were Eisenstein, master of montage, and Russian Formalism, insofar as the mostly literary movement influenced the plastic arts. Engineers of the human soul was how Stalin reputedly re-defined the role of the artist in what was supposed to have become a utopia. Should a workers paradise actually have come about everything would have been different. But as it is, the movie companies of the USSR, buttressed by state sponsorship and support, could not produce anything that would compete with a blockbuster along the lines of a Star Wars (1977). Like it or not, the mid-to-late1970s film was incredibly successful and captured, for a time, the world-wide screen. Not just Lenin and Stalin but all leaders have always coveted this kind of reach. And as much as old guard communists might have condemned the sci-fi extravaganza as excessive and unrealistic, they could not show by way of example a comparably riveting work of socialist realism. Surely Russian artists were capable of masterpieces, but government guidelines were too rigid to act as midwife. Reforms eventually came that would have encouraged capitalist-like incentives, but by then it was too late.

Art and politics is definitely a major theme throughout Frida. Socialism versus capitalism lock horns in a memorable scene during which Rivera refuses to compromise with his patron, Nelson Rockefeller. Feminism is also a topic as the relationship between Diego and Frida shifts from one form to another. And then, there are those haunting compositions by Frida that are so intriguingly shown so that they are anything but austere and lifeless museum pieces. One might assert that much of her work was a reflection of her having been so self-absorbed. She suffered an undue share of sickness and misfortune and no doubt at times felt sorry for herself. But this by itself cannot account for why her paintings command so much attention.

Lila Downs, singer and spokesperson for Mexicans without a voice, can be seen and heard in a sultry tango sequence. Excerpts from her work on the film and elsewhere are readily available on You-Tube. A recent article about her immediate plans can be found in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Facebook has all the goods on Salma Hayak. There is, of course, a lighter to side to the entertainment industry. The more crucial point is that Mexico will not be kept down. Even if only in movies, paintings, and song.


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