FRIDA Kahlo lived 47 years, 29 of them suffering intense pain: physical, mostly stemming from grotesque injuries in a bus accident when she was 18; emotional, often due to her infidelity-fraught marriages to wild man Diego Rivera; spiritual, over life’s social inequities in general. Expression brought her fame and eventual iconic status, via her unique art and her unconventional associations with other outsized personalities. Daunting to compress into a single telling, Frida’s gifted and traumatic world and fight-back persona captivated Salma Hayek enough that the actress spent eight years putting together a portrait of Kahlo & company, emerging with the rich, vibrant and gripping 2002 biopic. Backed by a strong cast and sumptuous production design, Hayek, 35, unleashed the performance of her career, seizing an Oscar nomination as Best Actress, the labor of love brilliantly directed by Julie Taymor.

At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.

Covering the years 1922 to 1954, the story is a passion-infused swirl of vividly imagined settings and passages of imagination, taking Kahlo headlong through joy & despair, lust & tenderness, assignations & arguments, obscurity & apotheosis. In short, an actresses’ dream role, to which Hayek rises to the occasion with grace & sensuality, ferocity & dignity, submerging herself so utterly into Kahlo’s appearance and trials you can almost forget how extraordinarily beautiful and naturally charming she is. Frida’s blessed and cursed circle of fellow travelers includes iconic muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), Red exile Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), capitalist fancier Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) and Communist activist artists like photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) and painter David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas). Betrayal— personal, (her outsized champion and philandering heartbreaker Rivera), political (the word itself serves) and physical (her endlessly tormented body) are battled by an amazing inner reservoir of spirit.

“I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and you… You are by far the worse.”

The aesthetic kaleidoscope orchestrated by director Taymor is enhanced by Rodriego Prieto’s rich cinematography, Elliott Goldenthal’s evocative music score and some marvelous insertions of inspired animation at key flow points. Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas were credited with the screenplay; supporting actors Banderas and Norton also worked on it. The production was mounted for $12,000,000, and while it only managed 97th place in the States (Frida would nod), the global gross rounded out to a gratifying $56,300,000.

What do you think matters most for a good marriage?”   “A short memory.

Oscars went to Goldenthal’s score and the superb makeup provided by John E. Jackson and Beatrice De Alba. Besides the wins and Hayek’s nod (she should have won), further nominations went to the Art Direction (Bernardo Trujillo), Costume Design (Julie Weiss) and Song “Burn It Blue” (infinitely better than Eminem’s rap crap that somehow won), written by Taymor.

Also in the cast: Roger Rees (Frida’s supportive father), Valeria Galino (excellent as Rivera’s previous wife), Mia Maestro (sister ‘Cristina’), Diego Luna, Patricia Reyes Spindola (Kahlo’s bitter mother), Saffron Burrows and Karine Plantadit (as Josephine Baker). 123 minutes.

I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.”

* Among the previously hopeful Frida’s: Madonna (retch), Jennifer Lopez (feasible), Marisa Tomei (a contender, based on her wonderful The Perez Family) and Laura San Giacomo, who was slated to start nine years earlier, with Raul Julia as Rivera, but Julia’s death and friction over San Giacono’s ethnicity shut that down. Salma: right actress, right part, right time.

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