Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Legacy of Frida Kahlo’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs

The Legacy of Frida Kahlo
(Japan, 89 min.)
Dir. Tadasuke Kotani
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)

Japanese filmmaker Kotani’s doc opens on Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Mexico’s carnivalesque celebration of the dead, and returns to it in its finale. The Day of the Dead, with its flamboyant costumes and death’s head makeup worn by celebrators of all ages, connects with the film’s content.

In this movie, the legacy of Frida Kahlo is a treasure trove of her clothes, shoes, leg braces, painkillers, and other artifacts found in her husband Diego Rivera’s bathroom, which had been locked up for 50 years. Throughout the doc, Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi, photographs embroidered dresses, spectacularly decorated corsets, and other belongings, including a hand-decorated prosthetic leg.

Like celebrators of the Day of the Dead, Ishiuchi honours a dear person who died, in this case a woman who expressed herself through costume. (Of course, Kahlo also did this through her paintings but that’s of less concern to Ishiuchi.) The intimate pictures of Kahlo’s outfits, shot for an exhibition, are meant to evoke the artist’s body and soul. At one point, Ishiuchi reveals that she identifies with Kahlo so strongly she believes they are the same person.

Conventionally directed, drifting at times, the film nevertheless documents a compelling creative project and like the photographs, is haunted by a legend.

The Legacy of Frida Kahlo screens:
-Friday, May 6 at the Fox Theatre at 7:00 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

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