×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Virus Tropical’

Attractive B&W animation is the chief pleasure of this otherwise thinly diaristic adaptation of Power Paola's graphic novel.

With:
VOICES: Alejandra Borrero, María Cecilia Sánchez, Martina Toro, Diego León Hoyos, Mara Gutiérrez, María Parada, Camila Valenzuela, Javiera Valenzuela

1 hour 37 minutes

The name of the L.A.-based festival that celebrated its inaugural edition in October is declarative: Animation Is Film. But that manifesto is only partially upheld by Santiago Caicedo’s black-and-white feature “Virus Tropical,” which is closely adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Power Paola, the nom de plume of Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Paola Gaviria. This is most definitely a striking animation, but whether its storytelling passes muster is quite another matter.

The visual treatment here, following the lead of Gaviria’s own art direction (she reportedly produced about 5,000 individual drawings for the film) is the source of a great deal of the film’s charm, as it combines with deliberate naiveté a variety of different lo-fi, 2D black-and-white styles, from its boldly graphic, childlike, line-drawn characters, to the rickety, intricate cityscape backdrops, to the more prettified, watercolor-wash-style interludes of cloudy skies and birds in trees. And while the transitions between scenes are sometimes a little puzzling, more often they’re inspired and compel us forward through the shaggy narrative, smoothing the bumps between the story’s rather random-feeling series of episodes. This is particularly true of the arresting opening sequence in which the raindrops that hammer down outside a bedroom in 1976 Quito where a man and a woman are having noisy sex, turn into spermatozoa tadpoling gamely through the Jules Verne-like tunnels of the woman’s fallopian tubes. Lo, an egg is fertilized, and a zygote becomes an embryo.

The miracle of conception here is even more miraculous than usual, as the woman, Hilda (voiced by Alejandra Borrero) had undergone a tubal ligation some time beforehand, and a succession of doctors is so sure she cannot be pregnant that they diagnose her with various other conditions to account for her pregnancy symptoms, one of which is the titular “Virus Tropical.” The resulting baby is the author and narrator herself, Paola (Maria Cecilia Sanchez). But while there’s a witty irony in calling one’s autobiography after the misdiagnosis of one’s own conception, it’s a quality only demonstrated sporadically afterward. Indeed the provocative idea that Paola herself might have been considered an affliction is never explored again after this spiky, entertaining start.

Instead we follow the ins and outs and highs and lows of Paola’s fairly typical journey to adulthood, in which the least typical aspect is that her father, Uriel (Diego Leon Hoyos), had left the priesthood to raise a family with Hilda. They already had two girls, Claudia (Camila Valenzuela) and Patty (Mara Gutiérrez), by the time Paola came unexpectedly along.

As a baby, Paola is doted on by Claudia and resented by Patty, but that dynamic reverses when Patty makes her first communion and Claudia starts to run a little wild as a teen, especially after Uriel leaves his family to return home to Medellín. His departure is a good example of the way the storytelling in “Virus Tropical” goes awry. As an ex-priest who is seen to occasionally host family masses at home, Uriel is a character rich with intriguing possibilities (not least in how his paradoxical relationship with the Church will impact his children’s religiosity). Yet we’re given no concrete reason for his abandonment, and once he’s gone, he’s scarcely mentioned till he suddenly pops back up again.

So not much significance is attached to Paola growing up without a male authority figure even though the story’s largely female ensemble seems to beg for a feminist, gender-issue-oriented reading. Uriel’s leaving is largely stakes-free, simply a thing that happens, like Claudia’s similarly sudden exodus to the Galapagos or Hilda’s decision to uproot to Cali and so on. It is a narrative packed with incident, but lacking in the connective logic that helps us to see the forces that shaped us into adults: in short, it’s more diary than drama.

Beneath the beguiling imagery and Adriana Garcia Galán’s pleasant soundtrack that melds pan-pipe motifs and Latin-rhythm-inflected folk rock, the characters have almost as little depth as their simplified images. Paola is a blank slate who experiences the normal rites of passage of growing up (first period, first boyfriend, loss of virginity and so on) without seeming too profoundly affected by any of them. Supporting characters too are dogged by inconsistencies that might be true to life as Gaviria experienced it, but as told just make them seem unmotivated.

The more adult topics that are touched upon, such as recreational drug use and sexual activity, despite their relatively timid presentation, put the picture outside the realm of kids’ film, yet there’s not quite enough mature insight to make it a satisfying watch for adults either. The movie’s visual pleasures and idiosyncrasies may make for lively animation, but as a narrative film, “Virus Tropical” feels more like a sketch.

Film Review: 'Virus Tropical'

Reviewed online, Amsterdam, Nov. 20 2017. (Also in Animation Is Film Festival — competing.) 

Production: (Animated — Colombia-Ecuador) A Timbo Estudio and Powerpaola production. (International Sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Executive producer: Carolina Barrera Quevedo.  

Crew: Director: Santiago Caicedo. Screenplay: Enrique Lozano, based on the graphic novel by Power Paola. Camera (B&W) Music: Adriana Garcia Galán. Art Director: Paola Gaviria.

With: VOICES: Alejandra Borrero, María Cecilia Sánchez, Martina Toro, Diego León Hoyos, Mara Gutiérrez, María Parada, Camila Valenzuela, Javiera Valenzuela

More Film

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe's The Lighthouse' Wins Cannes Critics' Award

    Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, won the Cannes Film Festival critics’ award for best first or second feature in Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, one of the first prizes for which “The Lighthouse” has been eligible at Cannes. The award was announced Saturday in Cannes by the Intl. Federation of [...]

  • promenade Cannes Croisette Cannes Placeholder

    Cannes Market Claims Record Visitor Numbers

    The Cannes Market, the Cannes Film Festival’s commercial wing, says that its 2019 edition welcomed a record number of participants. It reported 12,527 attendees. The largest group by nationality was from the U.S. with 2,264 participants, followed by France with 1,943 participants, and the U.K. 1,145. Comparable figures for 2018 were not available. The number [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content