A tortured Mexican artist whose work reflected her physical and psychological pain, Frida Kahlo lived in the shadow of her more famous painter husband Diego Rivera during her lifetime. But in recent years there has been a steady revival of her work, which has gained new respect among the artistic community.
To the average observer, her paintings immediately appear to be incredibly dark, if not disgusting and sick. But an understanding of her background gives Kahlo's imagery a wider dimension.
"Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around the Bomb" is a documentary about Kahlo's life, but it's hardly the traditional form for this type of film. There are talking-head interviews with some of those who shared Kahlo's life but the framing device and clearly the emphasis for exploring her work (some 120 of Kahlo's paintings are shown) is a dramatic interpretation by actress/co-producer Cora Car-dona.
Using excerpts from a play (Abraham Oceransky's "The Diary of Frida Kahlo"), Cardona portrays Kahlo as a fiery, angry, unfulfilled soul who dwelt on death and embraced pain. During her childhood she suffered from polio and later was severely injured in a bus accident, from which she never fully recovered. She also could never quite get over being unable to have children.
Meanwhile, Kahlo's self-portraits reveal a range of dark, self-destructive feelings, whether her haunting face is on a fawn plugged with bloody arrows or on a body opened to reveal a steel post replacing her spinal column or whether she is shown in various stages of bleeding in hospital beds.
While some of this is unpleasant, there's a morbid fascination with this woman who was unable to come to terms with herself during her lifetime.
Some of Kahlo's history is glossed over or omitted completely (her affiliation with the Communist Party, her affair with Leon Trotsky) and her relationship with the older and physically imposing Diego Rivera is only briefly explored. There are also some dramatic moments that seem to be here more for Cardona's benefit as a performer than to lend any insight into Kahlo.
Still, despite its dwelling a bit too much in the Land of the Tortured Artist, much of this is quite compelling. Although, whether she should really be compared to Vincent van Gogh is arguable.
"Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around a Bomb" (the title comes from poet Andre Breton's description of the volatile Kahlo) is not rated but would doubtless get an R for language and for some of the imagery in Kahlo's paintings.