Virus Tropical

 

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A family tale presented in a manner that takes one by surprise. 

 
Virus Tropical 

From whichever angle you approach it, what strikes one most about this film is its unexpectedness. First, there's the fact that it is a co-production between Colombia and Ecuador and not many films of any kind reach us from that area. Secondly, this piece by Santiago Caicedo, his first feature, is an animated work and this represents an element of Colombian cinema that has only developed in recent times. Thirdly, this adaptation of Powerpaola's graphic novel has the rarity value of being an example of an animation made in black and white.

 

Put these factors together and you certainly have in Virus Tropical an intriguing novelty although it ultimately left me with mixed feelings. Powerpaola was the pen-name of Paola Gaviria and she contributes to this film both as a co-writer and as the art director. That's apt because the book was an autobiographical work drawing on her childhood and adolescence and the film's portrayal of it is frank in regard to sex and drug-taking thus making it an animated film not aimed at kids (it has a 15 certificate).

 

The opening sequence is a fanciful treatment of Paola's birth in Quito, Ecuador in 1976, a pregnancy that was not supposed to happen since her mother's tubes had been tied following the birth of two other daughters, Claudia and Patty. Indeed, in these circumstances a doctor had initially attributed her mother's state to a tropical virus. Despite the choice of title, the virus theme is not developed in relation to Paola save for a song at the close linked to her escaping to a new life. What we do have is a family saga in which what happens to the two older sisters and the history of their father's departure leading to a divorce are as central as Paola's experiences growing up. But, if the footage about the sisters seems rather too substantial when their problems take over, there is in contrast not enough detail about the parents and their break-up. The impression that I was left with was that the material could easily have yielded a TV series about the family made with live actors which might well have been richer, more involving and better suited to following through all the ups and downs of these people.

 

Similarly, the look of the film which uses the 'Scope format is interesting but not always satisfying. The choice of black-and-white works well when the focus is intimate and concentrated on the individuals in the family, but when backgrounds require a bigger canvas it starts to look somewhat make-shift as though limited by the cost. By the close and despite a music track including songs expressive of the settings which extend to Colombia, there is a sense that the story told has failed to make its full impact and consequently one suspects that animation was not the most appropriate medium for it. Yet it has to be said that Virus Tropical by being in its chosen form is rich in undoubted novelty value and as a genuine curiosity it is a film that some may find more winning than I did.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: the voices of Mariá Cecilia Sánchez, Martina Toro, Alejandra Borrero, Diego León Hoyos, Camila Valenzuela, Javiera Valenzuela, Mara Gutiérrez.

 

Dir Santiago Caicedo, Pro Santiago Caicedo, Screenplay Entique Lozano and Paola Gaviria, from the graphic novel by Powerpaola, Art Dir Paola Gaviria, Ed Santiago Caicedo, Simón Hernández and Jorge H.Vallejo, Music Adriana García Galán.

 

Ikki Films/Timbo Estudio Powerpaola-MUBI.
97 mins. Colombia/Ecuador. 2017. Rel: 10 June 2020. Available on MUBI. Cert. 15.