×
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

  • Heather Parry Live Nation

    Heather Parry Fired From Live Nation Productions

    Live Nation Entertainment announced Thursday that Heather Parry will leave the company following a Variety investigation into allegations of workplace bullying. Parry ran Live Nation Productions, the TV and film arm of the touring conglomerate, for three years. In December, Variety reported that Live Nation’s human resources department had been repeatedly warned that Parry was [...]

  • A still from Sea of Shadows

    Sundance Film Review: 'Sea of Shadows'

    It’s a decidedly grim circle of life that moves us all in “Sea of Shadows,” a tight, troubling documentary eco-thriller that charts a compelling course of consequence from Chinese black-market apothecaries to the near-extinction of a rare whale in the Sea of Cortez, hitting on Mexican crime cartels and institutional corruption along the way. Austrian [...]

  • Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie Circle Edgar

    Matt Smith, 'Leave No Trace' Star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie Circle Edgar Wright Movie

    Matt Smith and “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie are in negotiations to join Edgar Wright’s next film, “Last Night in Soho,” sources tell Variety. Details are vague about the psychological horror movie, other than it being set in London’s Soho district. Anya Taylor Joy is also in the cast. Production is expected to [...]

  • Vice Media

    Vice Media Taps Joe Simon as Chief Technology Officer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Joe Simon has been tapped as chief technology officer at Vice Media. The newly created role will include oversight of data analytics, engineering, information technology, media operations, media technology, post production, and systems management. Prior to Vice, Simon spent three years as Encompass Digital Media’s chief operating officer. Previously he held the chief technology officer [...]

  • Michael B Jordan denzel washington

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Denzel Washington's 'Journal for Jordan'

    Michael B. Jordan is in talks to star in Sony’s “Journal for Jordan,” a drama that will be directed by Denzel Washington. The movie, penned by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Virgil Williams, is based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Canedy’s love affair with First Sergeant Charles Monroe King. King kept a journal [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone

    Sylvester Stallone's Superhero Drama 'Samaritan' Lands at MGM

    MGM is developing the superhero drama “Samaritan” with Sylvester Stallone attached to star and produce through his Balboa Productions. The studio has acquired Bragi F. Schut’s script, which centers on a boy learning that a missing superhero, who vanished 20 years earlier after a battle, may still be alive. MGM will develop “Samaritan” with Stallone [...]

  • Kendrick Lamar

    Oscars: Kendrick Lamar and SZA Will Not Perform 'Black Panther' Song (EXCLUSIVE)

    Despite the Academy’s efforts to secure Kendrick Lamar and SZA for a performance of the Oscar-nominated song “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” on the upcoming Oscars telecast, the duo will not be a part of the show, Variety has learned. The reason, according to a source close to the situation, is logistics and timing. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content