‘Frida Kahlo’ – The Love, Life and Loneliness of an Icon: Review

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940

Frida Kahlo, the latest documentary film by Exhibition on Screen, is an in-depth and immersive look into the life of the iconic Mexican artist.

Directed by Ali Ray, it goes beyond the bright colours, bold brows and traditional Tehuana styling for which Kahlo is known and delves deeper into her story, who she was as a person and how her life experiences, loves and losses, influenced her work.

The artist was born in a suburb of Mexico City in 1907 and grew up with her parents and three sisters in a house built by her photographer father, now known as La Casa Azul (‘the blue house’). Kahlo was a smart and promising student on track to become a doctor until 1925, when a bus she was travelling on with boyfriend Alejandro Gomez Arias was involved in an accident. She suffered many injuries and spent months in enforced confinement as she recovered, during which she rediscovered her childhood love of art.

Exhibition on Screen gives viewers a look at a number of Kahlo’s key works from both public and private collections around the world. Such works are shown in chronological order alongside photographs of the artist, videos panning across Mexico City and footage from inside La Casa Azul, which is now the Museo Frida Kahlo. Meanwhile, her biography is told by experts including the director of the Frida Kahlo Museum, art historians, and family members of both Kahlo and her husband and fellow Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. Elements of the paintings and drawings are shown in great detail as the camera zooms in, giving viewers somewhat of a virtual gallery experience, while the film’s narration puts them perfectly into context.

Viewers discover the artist’s changing influences, from the loss of her boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez Arias, when he is sent to Germany (Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926), to her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera (The Two Fridas, 1939), to the lifelong pain the bus accident caused her (The Broken Column, 1944). We also see her political attitude as she rejects European colonial art and fashion in favour of Mexican folk culture, embracing the Tehuanan style that becomes a central part of her identity. And lastly, we get an insight into Kahlo’s thoughts and feelings, her loneliness and depression, through letters she wrote throughout her life, read by an actress posing as the artist and diary entries from the last ten years before her death in 1954.

The Two Fridas 1939, Frida Kahlo, Museo de Arte Moderno, De Agostini Picture Library, G. Dagli Orti
The Two Fridas (1939), Frida Kahlo, Museo de Arte Moderno, De Agostini Picture Library, G. Dagli Orti

While a large proportion of the information in Frida Kahlo can be found elsewhere online or in literature, Exhibition on Screen seamlessly combines storytelling with a virtual gallery experience that allows viewers to explore Kahlo’s most important works located around the world from the comfort of a cinema seat, creating a truly immersive experience for fans of the artist. With her life story and work alongside each other, the art is put into context. We see how her life experiences directly impact her art, we feel her pain and we gain a much better insight into this iconic artist than simply picking up a book or traipsing around the Tate Modern, taking selfies.

Frida Kahlo will arrive in UK cinemas on 20 October.

Words by Bec Oakes

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