Documentary review: Frida Kahlo

Henry Tolley
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If you’re looking to delve into the warm waters of art history on a chilly October afternoon, then you’ve come to the right place. Frida Kahlo is a thorough exploration of the adored artist’s life, covering the joys and the aching tragedies of both her personal and professional ventures. If you’re interested enough in the subject to look past its tame production value (by big-budget, Netflix documentary standards), then you’ll enjoy this documentary.

Using a wealth of knowledge from art historians that clearly live and breathe Kahlo, Director Ali Ray has formed a well-rounded account of the artist’s life. Using still images interspersed with sit-down interviews of these experts, Frida Kahlo does have a whiff of the kind of video you have to exercise a little too much patience with as you stand and watch in a gallery. Nonetheless, it’s a very interesting look into the artist’s life that will please anybody who would go out of their way to see a Kahlo exhibition in the first place.

What struck me in particular about this film was the way it explored Kahlo’s life outside of Mexico. Often seen as this transcendent personification of the femininity of Mexico, the artist actually spent a lot of time in the US. This time was spent with her husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera, with whom her relationship was at times tumultuous and inspired much of her early work.

Produced by Exhibition on Screen, Frida Kahlo plays out as just that – an exhibition. Her paintings are analysed on-screen by art historians in an interesting, albeit A-level art class fashion, exploring the meaning behind her surrealist style imagery and use of symbolism. The film does have a whiff of high school education about it, and one can’t help but feel cheated of the initial excitement of watching your teacher wheel out that ancient cathode ray TV before watching.

Nonetheless, if you’re interested in the work of Kahlo and want to expand your knowledge, or you’re completely new to the monobrowed master of the brush, you’ll enjoy this film. Director Ali Ray says, “Directing this film has totally changed my view on Frida Kahlo as an artist. Beforehand, I hadn’t really given her much attention, feeling a little put off by the ubiquity of her image as an icon on cushion covers and t-shirts.” Moving beyond aestheticisation of figures like Kahlo allows us to truly appreciate them as artists – so get watching!

You can find screenings near you here.

About Henry Tolley

A young, queer writer living in London. Interests include LGBTQ+ culture and film.