- Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero delivers a wonderful voice performance as Frida Kahlo, capturing her allure and vulnerability.
- The choice to use animation to bring Kahlo’s artwork to life enhances the connection between her words and her final compositions.
- However, at times, the animation can feel like an infringement upon the artist’s original work, robbing it of standing on its own.
Even if you don’t know Frida Kahlo by name or by painting, chances are you’ve seen her face. She is among the most instantly recognizable artists in history, and, for better and worse, her image has become one of the most mass-produced, joining other icons like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, who have reached stratospheric levels of commercialism. On candles and coffee mugs, on tote bags and tea towels, and in crooked frames on the walls of your favorite cafés and restaurants — you can find her everywhere. With her signature unibrow, the intensity of her gaze, and her hair done up (often with a flower crown), there’s no mistaking her for anyone else. Of course, these quotidian interactions with Kahlo — or, more correctly, with facsimiles (of facsimiles) of Kahlo’s image — are, at best, hollow, offering nothing deeper than visual acknowledgment.
This is where director Carla Gutiérrez comes in — specifically, her directorial debut, Frida, which made its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Using diary entries, letters, essays, and interviews, as well as the artist’s own visual compositions, we get Kahlo speaking for herself for the first time. In particular, the film hones in on what the artist was feeling during pivotal moments in her life, from the accident that disabled her to her harrowing miscarriage. Gutiérrez’s film seeks to show us the artist before the artwork (and before the brand, for that matter). It’s an undeniably intimate documentary where found footage film meets motion painting. However, some of its technical choices unfortunately become its own undoing.
The Voice Behind the Artist
- Release Date
- January 18, 2024
- Frida Kahlo
- 1hr 27min
- Imagine Documentaries, Storyville Films, Time Studios
- Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero does a wonderful job in the voice role of Frida Kahlo.
- Using animation to bring Kahlo’s art to life was risky and could be seen as an infringement upon the artist’s original work.
- The animation and “bringing to life” Kahlo’s work rob the art, at times, of the opportunity to stand on its own.
It’s certainly a brave choice on Gutiérrez’s part to cast an actor to voice Frida‘s titular subject. For someone as iconic and ubiquitous as Kahlo, the voice work here bears great responsibility, having to contend, on the one hand, with what everyone has imagined she would sound like and, on the other, with capturing the allure we’ve all consciously or otherwise ascribed to her. To her credit, Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero performs the role wonderfully. Her voice’s soft and lower register, with just a touch of raspiness — Kahlo was a frequent smoker, after all — supports the somber and intimate tone of the words driving the film. Indeed, it often feels like listening to a friend pouring their heart out.
“I paint because I need to,” Kahlo says early on in Frida. It’s a simple line that, when read on paper on its own, can come across as self-aggrandizing — especially coming from an icon like Kahlo — but del Rivero’s voice lends it a disarming vulnerability. As a result, the film immediately eschews any preconceived notions that this film is just another celebratory documentary about a great artist. Of course, Frida does celebrate Kahlo’s life and work, but it’s so much more than that: hearing her speak feels like a long-anticipated introduction to someone we’ve admired forever. For 87 minutes, she lives and breathes again.
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The Paradoxical Experience of Watching Frida
An equally brave, though this time exponentially risky, creative choice in Frida is using animation to bring Kahlo’s artwork to life. This isn’t to say that her work wasn’t living in the first place, which is precisely the issue. One can make the case that the tools of the documentary enhance the subject and its story: Kahlo’s work isn’t necessarily altered by the animation; instead, the animation bridges the gap between her words (and thus her intention and creative state of mind) and her final compositions. This allows us to unearth a deeper meaning between the artist and her art. On the other hand, however, there are times when it feels almost like an infringement upon the artist’s original work.
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As the industry wrestles with how artificial intelligence can be scary, especially in the context of an actor’s likeness and/or past work being manipulated to create something new, it’s ironic to see Frida, which seeks (and, by all accounts, succeeds) to give Kahlo a voice, speaking on behalf of the artwork. Every seemingly innocuous technical choice — from how the animals in the painting are animated to how the camera moves through any given painting — is a breadcrumb we have no choice but to collect if we are to digest the deeper message being cooked together. This, of course, is how all films inherently operate to a certain degree, but here, “bringing to life” Kahlo’s work robs the art, at times, of the opportunity to stand on its own.
By the end, one can’t help but wonder what Kahlo herself would make of both Frida and, more generally, how she’s received, printed (and reprinted), and consumed in the world today. As the documentary reiterates, Kahlo painted for herself first; it was her way of exorcising the pain, thoughts, and feelings she had struggled with all her life. She bared her soul in her work, and, in turn, Frida allows us to be witnesses to it. Perhaps that is enough.