Review: Frida | Sundance 2024

Score: A

Director: Carla Gutiérrez

Cast: Fernanda Echevarría Del Rivero

Running Time: 88 min

Rated: NR

Frida Kahlo is such an iconic artist, that most people have at least a base knowledge of her paintings, or at least of her unibrow. Few, understandably, know more than that. So when a filmmaker decides to make a documentary about a famous artist, we generally know what we’re in for. Here comes some archival footage, some talking head interviews, and maybe some curators discussing the importance of her work. Instead, director Carla Gutierrez has done something revelatory and placed us, somehow, directly inside Frida’s head. Instead of hearing from art experts and Mexican history academics, we get to hear from Frida herself. First-person narration combined with stunningly beautiful animations of her work makes Frida a joy to watch, somehow opening a portal from our world to her colorful one.

The film covers the artist’s life, from birth to death. At first, Frida's first-person narration can be jarring. Voice actor Fernanda Echevarria del Rivero brings such presence and vitality to Frida’s words, taken from letters, essays, and print interviews, that you quickly buy-in that you’re listening to the icon tell her own story. It’s a risky but clever move because once the audience is hooked, it gives the emotional beats of her story an immediacy, a closeness that further bonds the audience to the painter. Other voice actors contribute as Diego Rivera and Frida’s friends, and all together it creates a tapestry of voices that gives a stiff documentary genre a whole new level of emotional connection.

The voice acting is only part of why Frida is so successful. The other parts are its beautiful visuals and music. Working with a predominantly female team of animators, Gutierrez fills the screen with subtle animations of Frida’s works. Instead of presenting them as still images to be analyzed, the animations let them play an active role in the storytelling, reflecting what was going on in Frida’s life while also conveying her raw talent and emotion that were so key to her art. In addition, small motifs of animated drawings and carefully colored-in archival footage lend liveliness to typical documentary elements. Tying the narration and the animation all together is beautiful music that carries the audience through the story with trumpets and voices evoking traditional Mexican music while still feeling reflective of Frida herself.

Biographical documentaries can often feel like well-trod ground. Director Carla Gutierrez has managed to create a film just as colorful and inventive as its iconic subject matter. Through cohesive use of creative tools like first-person narration, animation, and music, she brings Frida Kahlo’s emotionally-charged works into the modern day.


About Katie Anaya

Katie Anaya