'Frida' magical new documentary on the life of artist Frida Kahlo

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Monday March 4, 2024
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'Frida' (photo: Lucienne Bloch)
'Frida' (photo: Lucienne Bloch)

The incredible true story of 20th-century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), "Frida" is told from the artist's own perspective. Voiced by Fernanda Echeverría del Rivero as Kahlo, the film is based on primary sources including Kahlo's personal illustrated diaries, essays, and print interviews punctuated with rare archival footage.

Although "Frida" is a documentary, this is a beautifully lyrical film with the pitch-perfect emotional feel and slick editing of a narrative film. The candid information it contains, including about her life as a bisexual married woman, may just make it the definitive Frida Kahlo film in a field with plenty of competition, including narrative films starring talented actresses Ofelia Medina and Salma Hayak.

'Frida' (photo: Archivo Manuel A?lvarez Bravo)  

Entranced by Her Art
Kahlo's paintings are strangely intimate and other worldly, often with a tragic edge. Many people feel entranced by her disturbingly beautiful art, which has the power to communicate what words are powerless to impart.

After a trolley accident left Kahlo bed-ridden for years, she turned a minor hobby into her life's work, expressing herself through her painting as a way to make sense of her condition and seek a shared bond with the viewer.

"Intimate, raw, intense, vibrant, and sometimes very painful," says debut director Carla Gutierrez about the art of Kahlo. Gutierrez is better known as the editor of films like "Chavela" about singer Chavela Vargas, one of Kahlo's female loves.

Impressive new animations make her art come alive in the film. They emphasize the heartache the art depicts, but such efforts can easily tip into sappy schmaltz for the viewer with a cold eye.

Although it's hard to believe, Kahlo was far less famous during her lifetime than her more successful husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957), whose art perfectly embodies the spirit of the age after the Mexican Revolution as Mexico began industrializing. Rivera's compelling murals extol the working man in prominent spaces throughout Mexico.

Interestingly, the artistic couple had an open marriage, although a tempestuous one, and lived in adjoining blue houses from which they pursued their individual artistic visions.

Ahead of Her Time
The film uncovers territory most fans of Kahlo know little to nothing about, such as her penchant for dressing in men's clothes in college, and a painful miscarriage she and her husband endured.

"Frida" also lets us in on her most private thoughts regarding a well-publicized affair with Leon Trotsky, whom she quickly grew to dislike. Trotsky, a star-crossed lover, apparent bigamist and would-be revolutionary in exile, and the person most responsible for the militaristic despotism Communism became — a far cry from the "land, bread and freedom" he vociferously promised — was soon murdered in his house in Mexico City by an assassin sent by Stalin.

Now that we know the Communist Revolution was funded by bankers in London, one of many of their social experiments, it is clear that history is a concerted effort to push certain things to the fore while leaving far more historically worthy subjects in obscurity.

But the film glosses over Kahlo and Rivera's devotion to the Communist cause, which seemed like a big deal at the time, but perhaps was nothing more than a cruel distraction in retrospect.

During her lifetime, Kahlo exhibited her art in New York and Paris with the help of writer André Breton. The film entertainingly takes us behind the scenes to understand the artist's vehement disagreements with Breton's interpretations of her work, including attempts to dissect her art using Freudian analysis, now largely discredited.

Furthermore, she did not consider herself a surrealist, like Spain's most wildly successful artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, and was frustrated by understandable attempts of the artistic establishment to push her in that direction.

Her unvarnished thoughts in Spanish on what she perceived to be misinterpretations of her work defy translation and make up some of the most memorable parts of the film.

Kahlo's introspective self-portraits, painted in a magical style all her own, were perhaps too far ahead of their time to be fully appreciated by the public while she was alive.

Ironically, she never aspired to become an artist, even though her beloved atheist German father was a talented photographer. If not for the serious medical condition she found herself in, Kahlo would have become a doctor.

"Frida" is an LGBT film that synthesizes huge amounts of information to give audiences real insight into the complex woman and great artist; tender-hearted, strong, rebellious, intelligent, forthright, and always highly creative. It makes us feel that Frida Kahlo is once again alive to confide in us personally.

Watch 'Frida' on Amazon Prime starting March 14.

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