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Photo: Peter Sorel for Miramax Films

She was beautiful, she was bisexual, she was crippled, and she could paint like an angel – who wouldn’t want to play Frida Kahlo in a movie? Madonna and Jennifer Lopez were trying, but Salma Hayek succeeded, and we’re glad she did. Hayek gives the kind of detailed, passionate performance certain to redefine her career. Film and theater director Julie Taymor (Titus, The Lion King) shot on location in Mexico with Geoffrey Rush (as Trotsky), Roger Rees (as Frida’s father), and Ashley Judd (as Tina Modotti). Despite a tight budget, the film has the romantic feel of an old-style Hollywood epic.

Taymor publicly tussled with her boss, Harvey Weinstein, over cutting the film after a test screening in New York this summer. “I wouldn’t call it a screaming fight if only one person is yelling,” she says very quietly. “I would have quit had it not been for Salma; I wanted to make this happen for her. If someone makes a good suggestion, I’ll listen, but I’m a highly visual artist with my own sensibility – The Lion King is in its ninth production in five years, after all.”

The filmmakers downplay Kahlo’s politics – she was a lifelong Stalinist – concentrating instead on the tumultuous love affair she had with Mexican painter Diego Rivera (unforgettably portrayed by Alfred Molina). It’s bad for accuracy but good for the film – something even her biographer Hayden Herrera agrees with. “Frida’s politics at the end were mostly histrionics,” she says. “It sounds like a Hollywood cliché to focus on her love for Diego, not Stalin or Marx, but for Frida, I think, that really was true. She used communism as a way to hang on to Diego. The film does a beautiful job of bringing a very difficult person to life.”

(Miramax; October 25).

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