Far from being some Covid-19 cash-in, the title of this beautiful 2017 Colombian-Ecuadorian animation refers to a dismissive doctor’s initial diagnosis when Quito housewife Hilda turns up at his surgery believing, despite having been sterilised, she is pregnant again. But it’s really the presiding metaphor for the fervid energy and uncontrollable drive towards independence in the life that follows: that of the Gaviria family’s third daughter, Paola, rendered in outstanding black-and-white animation by debut director Santiago Caicedo.
Adapted from graphic novelist Power Paola’s memoir, Virus Tropical is simultaneously a domestic saga (maybe influenced by the telenovelas to which it makes the odd ironic nod), portrait of an artist as a put-upon youngest child and a chronicle of a maturing South America. The paterfamilias, Uriel, leaves the household to return to the priesthood, and Hilda – who makes a living through psychic domino reading – is left to raise her three daughters largely alone. All three must find their own way to self-liberate from a caring but constrictive Catholic upbringing.
Virus Tropical doesn’t bother offsetting its family story against the kind of grand political bas-relief favoured by many graphic-novel memoirs (most notably, perhaps, Persepolis). Instead, it expresses itself purely in miniature, like little Paola with her Ken and Barbie dolls. Packed with wry detail, the film is a consistently eye-catching pop-up of life in Quito and, in Paola’s teen years, the Colombian city of Cali; the animation honours Power Paola’s stylised, almost Picasso-like character doodles, while augmenting them with slick computerised 3D that still manages to seem highly textured and handmade.
Paola’s destiny as an artistic wayfarer means that Virus Tropical is prone to a twee indie tendency that arguably robs it of a true ending. But while it doesn’t quite have the symphonic discipline of Roma, it achieves a comparable prismatic intimacy to Alfonso Cuarón’s film. The constant wash of visual beauty is entirely apt for a life and times in alarming motion, but always regulated by love.
• Virus Tropical is available on Mubi from 11 June.
Source: The Guardian