‘Frida’: The Documentary in Her Own Words

Catherine A. Jones
 | February 2, 2024

For the last two decades, we can’t seem to get enough of Frida Kahlo. 

Now, to our delight, the vibrant world of the Mexican artist, style icon, and fierce feminist is being told in her own words.

In a groundbreaking documentary, simply titled “Frida,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January, Kahlo’s words and art – from letters to journal entries to paintings – come to life to tell her personal story.

A Chihuahua’s tail wags, a plant’s leaves sway, and the earth cracks in her paintings, as Kahlo “talks” to us.

Who is behind this fresh approach and innovative storytelling?

It turns out, many long-time Frida Kahlo fans are to thank for this masterpiece.

Frida in her Own Words

The film, directed by Carla Gutiérrez, offers an intimate look into Kahlo’s life, art, and legacy. Through a masterful blend of Kahlo’s own words and innovative animation techniques, Gutiérrez and her team craft a vivid and immersive portrait of one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

Gutiérrez, renowned for her work as a film editor on documentaries such as “RBG” and “La Corona,” says she felt compelled to direct “Frida” after being captivated by Kahlo’s compelling narrative in the 2002 movie starring Salma Hayek as Frida.

The Latina director embarked on a mission to present Kahlo in a new light.

“In a film, you only have 90 minutes to tell a whole life. Our movie is really about a woman who could not contain her voice or herself, and I think that’s shown in her paintings, but also in the way that she portrayed herself to the outside world,” Gutiérrez tells HarpersBazaar.

The documentary is a triumph of meticulous research and dynamic artistry, drawing upon Kahlo’s illustrated diaries, revealing letters, essays, and interviews with those closest to her, including her husband, renowned muralist Diego Rivera.

With a focus on Kahlo’s innermost thoughts, artistic sensibilities, and passionate romances, the film offers an intimate glimpse into the complexities of her life.

Through captivating animations of 48 of her original paintings and 13 illustrations from her diary, viewers are taken on an immersive journey through Kahlo’s art.

“In the beginning of the project it was very much like how are we going to get into her inner thoughts and how are we going to feel her heart,” Gutiérrez, who is making her directorial debut with “Frida, told Variety. “We decided that the art is going to do that for us. We knew that it could be amazing to see colorful art coming out of this black and white world that surrounded her.”

Not Just a Historical Piece

The decision to exclusively use archival footage and interviews ensures that Kahlo’s voice remains the focal point, allowing audiences to connect directly with her narrative.

Enriched by an extraordinary selection of photographs, footage, and interviews by biographer Hayden Herrera, the film offers a comprehensive exploration of Kahlo’s life and legacy.

Through animation by Sofía Inés Cázares and Renata Galindo, elements of Kahlo’s paintings come to life, imbuing each scene with a palpable sense of vitality and emotion. A Chihuahua’s tail wags, a plant’s leaves unfurl and sway, and the earth cracks. 

If at certain moments the animation feels unnecessary given the sheer power of the imagery, it’s always in sync with the mood Kahlo is expressing, whether that mood is playful, celebratory, or despairing.

“We tried to break a little with the traditional and not set it to music with archival material because she broke with many things and was very modern at the time. We wanted to support that and not see it just as a historical piece,” explains Mexican composer Víctor Hernández Stumpfhauser to EFE.

A must-see for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone intrigued by the life of Frida Kahlo, the documentary will debut on Amazon Prime Video on March 14.

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