Frida movie review: A visceral exploration of the Mexican painter's life and art - Hindustan Times

Frida movie review: A visceral exploration of the Mexican painter's life and art

Mar 15, 2024 03:02 PM IST

The new Frida Kahlo documentary by Carla Gutiérrez takes a deep dive into the iconic artist's legacy with interesting results.

"The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to."

A still from Frida, the new documentary on Frida Kahlo
A still from Frida, the new documentary on Frida Kahlo

Even though there have been films, shows, and countless exhibitions about the famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo's work over the years (the one that sticks most notably is the 2002 Julie Taymor biopic starring Salma Hayek as Frida), not many have come close to capturing the intense and complex legacy of the artist. (Also read: From Girls Will Be Girls to Frida: 10 movies we're most looking forward to at Sundance Film Festival 2024)

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The new documentary directed by Carla Gutiérrez wants to revisit her life story through her own words – and emerges quite successful at it. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Frida- which now releases on Prime Video, is a vibrant and innovative departure, one that is more or less able to capture the artist's spirit and shifting perspective with the world.

Revisiting a real-life story

The key here is the proximity to the subject. Carla explores Frida's history through archival footage, which includes pictures, videos and diary entries, combined with transcripts of interviews of people close to her. Voice actor Fernanda Echevarria Del Rivero eloquently brings her unvarnished and spirited side alive. With the help of these elements, Frida paints an illuminating portrait of her story through her own words – which injects new life into her experiences, fears, and defiance as a creative person, always in sync with her artistic integrity.

As a nonfiction portrait, Frida takes quite a few innovative turns. Even as so much of her life is documented, the film provides space for perspective from the people who were present in her circuit, including her painter-husband Diego Rivera. Art and revolution, they overlap and intersect in her legacy – where there is interplay between the black-and-white footage with the colours that embellished Frida's art. Perhaps the most daring turn comes in the decision to add movement in the painting of Frida's work.

Although the animation by Sofía Inés Cázares and Renata Galindo is quietly nurturing towards the conversation around Frida's life in post-Revolution Mexico, there is something inherently wrong with adding movement to the imagery that is already so powerful and tremendous. A special shoutout to Víctor Hernández Stumpfhauser's rousing score, adding layers of depth and texture to the palette.

Final thoughts

There's value and complexity in Frida, and anyone who possesses an affinity towards art will devour it, but I cannot help but wonder why the film doesn't explore more about politics as well as her art, and how both these aspects were interlinked in her legacy. Perhaps the biggest concern is that Gutiérrez deals with Frida's story in chronological fashion – where there is little space for that contradictory indulgence that makes her art so arresting in the first place.

One wonders whether Frida Kahlo would have disliked the intervention into her life and work that is at play here. She most possibly would. She would've turned a side eye at the way this film hangs in quietly around her romances, among other things. But there's still something unexpectedly definitive about Carla's work that makes it stand out. Yes, the emphasis shifts and some of the choices do not land as intended, but there's an urgency and space for dialogue that makes Frida undeniable. Seek it out.

Frida is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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