Frida Kahlo was the first Mexican modern artist to have her work hung in the Louvre, but the price she paid for her achievement was one of crushing emotional torment and lifelong physical pain. She was a vibrant 19-year-old university student in 1926 when a trolley car accident left her body crippled for life; she began painting during her convalescence as a way of passing time. A few years later she fell in love with the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, 21 years her senior; the two married and embarked on a passionate, tempestuous relationship that would last until Kahlo's death in 1954 at the age of 47.
Until the end, despite countless well-publicized infidelities on both their parts, Rivera remained the one great love of Kahlo's life. Amy Stechler's documentary biography, shot in the style of Ken Burns' renowned PBS documentaries on Major League Baseball and the Civil War (Burns served as a consultant on the film), recounts Kahlo's artistic, romantic and medical ups and downs through vintage still photographs, interviews with former students and art experts and snippets of contemporary newsreel footage. Celebrated for her scandalously unconventional lifestyle as much as for the startling originality of her images, of which she was both subject and author, Kahlo carved out a place for herself as a thoroughly modern woman against the background of the political violence and artistic turmoil of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. Despite her physical frailty, everything she did seemed larger than life. Writer Carlos Fuentes, whom Stechler interviewed, recalls Kahlo's dramatic arrival at the Mexico City opera one night as unforgettable: dressed in a fantastic costume of her own invention and resplendent in an array of tinkling jewels, the artist's every step "sounded like a cathedral with all its bells ringing." Stechler's biography manages to capture the music as well as the drama of Kahlo's brief but brilliant career in this film that lovingly recalls the artist's outsized, operatic heroism and her touching personal vulnerability.
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