‘Frida’ provides a first-hand account into the renowned painter’s illustrious life

Real-life footage of Frida Khalo features in the Amazon Prime Video documentary film. Picture: Instagram.

Real-life footage of Frida Khalo features in the Amazon Prime Video documentary film. Picture: Instagram.

Published Mar 27, 2024


Frida Kahlo is one of the most acclaimed painters of her generation, not only in Mexican Modernism, but also in artistic history.

Renowned for the portraits and self-portraits she painted during life, Kahlo fearlessly and brilliantly utilised Surrealism, an artistic and literary movement which seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind.

The artwork she produced during her five-decade long career has had such a cultural impact that it has even spilled over into fashion and architecture.

And while this year marks her 70th death anniversary, Kahlo's story and paintings continue to inspire artists from across the globe.

Now for the very first time, the artist’s riveting life story is being told in her own words and through her works of art in the semi-animated Amazon Prime Video documentary film, “Frida”.

The Spanish movie with English subtitles, which was released on the streaming platform recently, brings the painter’s story to life as it draws from her diaries, letters, essays and interviews.

Khalo’s real-life paintings are animated in the documentary movie. Picture: Instagram.

Meanwhile, her paintings are vividly portrayed by lyrical animation, while real-life black and white archival footage of her life also feature on this autobiographical film.

“Frida” portrays the most pivotal and formative moments in the Mexican painter’s life.

Apart from her uncompromising, introspective and highly imaginative portraits which deal with themes such as identity, the human body and death, the documentary also provides insights into her personal affairs and tragedies.

It reflects upon the impact that her devastating accident in a trolley car had on her life as well as her complicated relationship with fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera, her time spent in the US as well as her affair with Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

A movie of the same title, where Kahlo was portrayed by actress Salma Hayek, was released in 2002.

Salma Hayek plays Frida Khalo in 2002 movie based on the artist. Picture: Instagram.

But this documentary movie chronicles the esteemed painter’s life journey from a first-person perspective.

In “Frida”, Kahlo’s voice is narrated by Mexican actress Fernanda Echevarria, while Carla Gutierrez made her directorial debut in this captivating flick.

She was prompted to work on the documentary when she noticed that despite an abundance of the Mexican painter’s existing writings, there were no narratives about her life told through her own words.

To put “Frida” together as well as to shape and inform the timeline of Khalo’s career and personal life, Gutierrez drew upon US historian Hayden Herrera’s 1983 book, “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo”.

Gutierrez also used information from the 1976 movie, “The Life and Death of Frida Khalo”, while archival materials from the Hoover Institution's library and archives were also used.

Meanwhile, much of the footage used was taken by American photographer Ivan Heisler.

“Frida” then came to life in a unique and spectacular fashion and features direct quotes from Kahlo as she tells her truth.

The Amazon Prime Video documentary also provides insight into the painter’s rebelliousness, confidence, feminism and her love for her craft.

“I paint myself because I’m what I know best” as well as “I will paint whatever I want, through no one else's eyes but my own,” are from her own writings, which feature in the movie.

On her life-altering accident, she explained in the documentary: “The bus accident crushed my bones.

“After the accident, the spirit of the revolution was the foundation for my determination.”

On her love life, she is quoted as saying: “Love is the foundation of all life”, but she also added: “I will never accept money from any man until I die. This way, I will be free.”

Her passion as a painter also shone through in the movie and from her writings, the movie narrates: “I never painted my dreams, I painted my own reality.”

She also believed that: “Many lives would not be enough to paint everything I want.”

“Frida” has already won the US Documentary Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

As the movie is anticipated to have even more success, some movie critics have lambasted its creators for animating her highly-esteemed work.

But others have welcomed the new perspective on the painter, particularly for offering a first-hand account on her accomplished life.

This includes “The Hollywood Reporter, whose partial review of the movie reads: “Such razor-sharp perceptions and unapologetic pronouncements fuel Frida no less than the unsettling and beautiful images she conjured.”

“Beyond the artistic pretensions she disdained, Khalo noted that her canvases depicted her life, not the dreamscapes that were central to surrealism.

“It was an exceptional life,and here at last is a film that not only honours her without resorting to sensationalism, but that also lets her speak.”

∎ “Frida” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.