In 1917, Argentina produced the first ever feature length animated film title El Alposto, a satirical cartoon which discussed upon the political corruption at the time in Buenos Aires. The film has since been missing due to significant celluloid damage, though the rich impact and memory of the feature has affected Argentina’s cultural film heritage. Today, the animation scene in the country is arguably just as politically well versed and experimental in all of its little cultural intricacies. The past century has evolved rapidly in different sorts of storytelling materials and mediums, though the basic structural and cultural routes are arguably just the same.
In short, nothing really changes. The past will always somehow simmer into the background of nearly every political-based work; regardless if the decision was intentional or not. It’s just the way how art and personal interpretation works and how our internal subconscious processes certain subtleties. It’s now 2020, a year of numerous catastrophes and odd coincidences. Appropriately enough, the latest animation joint from Argentina titled Lava is a work of pure chaos and nonsensical anarchy. To put it simply, its as if the creators of this feature are projecting our internal fears and ridiculing our menial existence and hyperactive conspiracies in one mid-length passion project.
A low budget disaster flick produced with only a small team of ambitious animators and artists, Lava is an augmented fever dream that plays like a game of Rory’s story cubes. Each narrative turn, character arc, and proceeding consequences are all in favor of pure randomness and lunacy. In concept, I’m usually a fan of these small though delicately crafted crowdfunded independent darlings. Especially when the film takes bold anti-formalist narrative gut punches, it’s always mesmerizing to see how a project (which often takes years to finalize) turns out at the end of the day.
It’s a shame that I can’t say the same about Lava. The film is a miserable mess; filled with raucous one liners and racist character designs that it’ll make any sensible human roll their eyes at certain miscellaneous comments. For example, saying “what a cool Chinese” isn’t something to gloat about; especially when the whole purpose of the gag is reliant on tropes and stereotypes regarding the appearance and social attitudes directed towards a certain race. The flash animation and reminiscent character design work of Cyanide and Happiness doesn’t do the film any real favors in terms of its originality and artistic intent either.
Truly original work comes from a pensive state; where all the elements of a film come together to create a truly unique and different narrative approach to a pre-existing idea or arc. Lava on the other hand, is a work of incoherent madness. Giant cats, torrenting, prophetic zines, giant snakes, simping, explosions, and giant witches seem like an incredibly grandiose crock-pot of insanity at face value. Though when the writers, directors, and even frankly the artists behind the production have no clue what they’re even conceiving to begin with, this leads to troubling results. The entirety of this film is like a bad political SNL skit; or more notably in Latin America, a very dry Sábados Felices comedy segment.
Lava is infantile, crude, and pointless. It’s a derivative dark comedy that’s reliant on outdated pop culture references and annoying fourth wall breaks. Just because you implement these jokes into your narrative in the first place, doesn’t make you any more or less clever. In fact, it just makes you look like a pretentious douche-bag. The best comedies manage to equally satisfy its audience with enough humor, heart, and commentary; creating a plentiful package of cinematic delights. Lava unfortunately fails to achieve anything in its tight sixty minutes, where the only reaction I personally gave was one of pure confusion and disappointment.
Lava screened at this year’s Annecy 2020 Festival in the Contrechamp competition