Credit: Fundación Leo Matiz
by Mattie Lucas Featured Film Streaming Scene

Frida — Carla Gutierrez

March 18, 2024

Taken almost exclusively from the personal illustrated diaries of Frida Kahlo, Carla Gutierrez’s Frida brings the renowned artist’s painting to often breathtaking life through animation and dramatic readings, offering an intimate portrait of her life and work. It’s easy to be skeptical of attempts to get people excited about great art by manipulating it to appeal to modern sensibilities, but the way in which Gutierrez animates Kahlo’s paintings feels unobtrusive and even natural, not so much trying to expand on her work as illuminating it, as if we the audience are being invited to see it through the artist’s own eyes.

Kahlo’s writings offer a fascinating window into both her life and process, living in the shadow of her more famous husband, Diego Rivera, before divorcing him and striking out on her own to become the beloved icon we all know today. Their stormy relationship often takes centerstage in Frida, as do Kahlo’s radical politics, which Gutierrez wisely does not ignore, exploring the roots of her communist ideals along with her disdain for the wealthy American capitalists who loved her husband’s work but not the politics that informed it. The commodification of their art becomes a kind of wedge in their relationship, and one wonders how Kahlo would feel about the modern commercialization of her own art in contemporary America, a place for which she had open hostility for celebrating commerce and wealth within the shadow of deep poverty.

The Frida we see here is a sexually liberated woman who reveled in her bisexuality and gender-bending aesthetic, and it’s refreshing for a documentary to so fully embrace the words of its subject rather than relying on contemporary historians to attempt to retroactively place her in some kind of digestible modern context, because Frida herself was such a strikingly modern woman. Yet there’s also a strange sense that Frida never really illuminates its subject in ways we haven’t seen before. Viewers of Julie Taymor’s Frida (2002) will likely be struck by how closely that film stuck to Kahlo’s diaries. Taymor’s film similarly sought to bring Kahlo’s art to life, and is arguably more successful in capturing their essence through a mixture of animation, puppetry, and a unique visual acuity that goes beyond simple imitation. While Gutierrez allows Frida the freedom to speak for herself, Taymor’s film still feels more daring, and covers almost identical territory. Gutierrez’s Frida is a lovely and often visually striking film, but it ultimately offers very little in the way of new or unique insight into one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

DIRECTOR: Carla Gutierrez;  CAST: Fernanda Echevarría;  DISTRIBUTOR: Amazon MGM Studios;  IN THEATERS/STREAMING: March 14;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 28 min.