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Salma’s ‘Gringo’ film on Frida Kahlo offends Mexicans

Mexico City, Nov. 11 (Reuters): Frida Kahlo “would have walked out,” Mexico’s most famous society commentator said in a damning review of Hollywood’s take on the cult Mexican painter, to be released in her homeland this month.

Mexican actress Salma Hayek, who has the title role and also produced Frida, has come home to promote the film before it opens nationally in Mexico on November 20.

But she may have a tough job winning over her compatriots, who are ambivalent about the United States at the best of times.

The few local critics who have seen the Miramax film have bristled at what they termed superficial portrayals of some of Mexico’s most revered artists by foreigners speaking accented English. Hayek, who lives in Los Angeles, depicts Kahlo’s tortured life — her crippling street car accident, stormy 1929 marriage to the celebrated muralist Diego Rivera, affair with exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and death in 1954 at 47.

Spanish-born Alfred Molina stars as Rivera and Spanish Hollywood heartthrob Antonio Banderas plays Rivera’s Stalinist contemporary, muralist David Alfaro Siquieros.

“What (Frida) would have loathed with all her soul is to have heard herself speaking in English, not in Spanish,” wrote society columnist Guadalupe Loaeza in Reforma daily.

“Frida Kahlo hated Gringos (Americans) and all that had to do with ‘Gringolandia,’” she added, using a pejorative that Mexicans use to evoke US capitalist excess.

Hayek, whose films include Desperado and Wild Wild West, says Frida could not have been made in Spanish.

“The money the film was made with is American. To be able to recoup that, the film had to be in English ... but Frida’s art is for everyone. It’s a language that transcends divisions and the film is very visual,” Hayek said at a news conference in which she became visibly annoyed by criticism of the film.

Director Julie Taymor agreed: “This is an international film. It is a love letter to Mexico from everyone in it.”

Premiere for elite

The film’s gala Mexican premiere last Friday — attended by a who’s who of artists, intellectuals and politicians — might well have offended Kahlo’s Communist sensibilities.

Few can argue with the Mexicanness of Frida: Hayek spends much of the film swigging Tequila, mariachis croon in bars, the actors eat enchiladas and mole, stroll through colourful street markets and visit the Aztec pyramids.

But critics here complain the film focuses too heavily on Rivera’s womanising and Kahlo’s lesbian affairs, failing to convey the depth of their Communist convictions and Kahlo’s passion for Mexican folklore.

Artist Guillermo Monroy, 78, one of four “Fridos” who studied painting under Kahlo, saw the film at a press screening and said it was beautifully shot and well acted but lacked spirituality.

“They exalted the parties, the drinking, the affairs to an exaggerated extent ... but the film lacks soul and spiritual essence to be a great work of art,” he told Reuters.

“I don’t think the political climate was well portrayed. They should have shown Frida and Diego as Communist social activists, but it was more a collage,” he added.

In the film, Hayek wears the colourful Indian peasant dress the artist adopted and her eyebrows meet in the middle, as did Kahlo’s. But she does not have Kahlo’s mustache or the limp left by childhood polio and aggravated by her street car accident.

Taymor said she wanted to convey Kahlo’s spirit and did not want to distract the audience with the mustache.

“People want to see a biography but you can’t show a biography in two hours,” said Hayek. “It’s a story of unconditional love between two people. There are many people who don’t have the capacity to understand the film.”

Frida was released in the United States on October 25.

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