Making movies about artists cannot be easy. The tougher the artist’s paintings are to understand, the more difficult it is to depict what inspired it. And to be able to present a picture of both the artist and the person underneath… that is even more difficult. Well nigh impossible, I’d say. And yet, this is precisely what Frida accomplishes, and so beautifully does it accomplish it that few, if any, will come away unimpressed by it.
Frida Kalho was a carefree young schoolgirl when she got injured in an accident that nearly killed her. She lived through a lifetime of pain after that, but managed to achieve her ambition: to be her own person. She also managed to achieve recognition as an artist whose unique personal style has made her an iconic figure.
Her personal life is marked by a long-standing relationship with the famous muralist Diego Rivera. This is Rivera’s third marriage, and when Frida uses this fact to argue that he doesn’t seem to be the type who believes in marriage, he replies that he does believe in marriage, only he doesn’t believe in fidelity. They do promise to be loyal to one another, though. And in many ways, they are loyal to each other, although the relationship is marred by numerous affairs and heartbreak. No matter what happens between them, they recognize the greatness of each other’s talent, and in the end that is the strongest bond between them.
While a good portion of the movie concentrates on her personal life (there are very few scenes that actually show her at work), it never loses sight of her art. Frida’s paintings were largely autobiographical, and director Janet Taymor breaks free from reality in a number of scenes to show how her life translated into her paintings. It is a very interesting visual strategy, and makes a huge difference to our understanding of Frida’s life and work.
The moment that best represents this, for me, is the scene depicting Frida’s accident. It ends with an overhead shot of her lying splayed on the floor of the bus, covered in gold dust, a pool of her own blood around her, a steel rod pierced through her abdomen. It is gruesome, yet undeniably artistic. That was Frida for you.