I think it’s safe to assume that no one will ever get to watch writer/director Iuli Gerbase’s debut feature film, “The Pink Cloud,” exactly the way she intended. That isn’t because the final product of the film itself isn’t something she stands behind; quite the contrary. Rather, it’s due to exterior factors that have rocked the world in the years since Gerbase wrote the film in 2017, and made it in 2019, factors whose eerie similarity to the events Gerbase conjured up in her movie are impossible not to consider, impossible not to think about how two years of on and off lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in many of us having similar experiences to the characters in “The Pink Cloud.”
Set in Brazil, a young woman named Giovana (Renata de Lélis) has a one night stand with Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), a man she barely knows. The pair wake up the next morning to sirens alerting everyone to get inside the nearest building and close all the doors and windows. News reports confirm the source of the panic: a mysterious pink cloud has enveloped the planet, and will kill any human who breathes it within 10 seconds. No one knows what it is made of, or what is causing the phenomenon, only that everyone needs to remain indoors if they want to survive. While naturally concerned, Giovana and Yago initially appear content to make their circumstances work, an upbeat montage even portraying them settling in and making a home together. But their relationship and their individual mental states become increasingly fraught as days turn to months turn to years, and it looks like the cloud is never going to leave.
“The Pink Cloud” may be science fiction, but while Gerbase includes some interesting looks at how the world at large is adapting to the cloud—from tubes installed on the windows of homes that allow residents to order food and supplies to be delivered by drones, to clips of people throwing parties celebrating the cloud’s first birthday—her primary concern is the emotional toll that quarantine takes on a select group of individuals. An early conversation between Giovana and Yago illustrates the different outlooks and desires they have that foreshadows the fissures that will develop in their relationship later on. Giovana is content to keep things casual; at this point in the story, there’s still hope that the cloud will disappear soon, and she’ll be able to travel again, and see friends. But even in lockdown, she likes being able to wake up when she wants and do whatever she wants, with next to no obligations. But Yago wants children, and when he tries to pressure Giovana into answering whether she thinks she someday might want them to, she storms away in frustration. The pair eventually do have a child though, and the more stifled she becomes by this new lifestyle she never wanted, the more Giovana drifts away from reality, taking refuge in VR experiences. Time becomes less defined as the film progresses, while a lovely soft pink tone colors much of the movie; as Gerbase explained in a director’s statement, she aligned the source of the lockdown with a traditionally feminist color to reflect how Giovana is being suffocated by gender roles the longer she must remain in one place.
While the entire film is set inside Giovana and Yago’s home and revolves around their relationship, Gerbases makes room to explore other, different experiences that people are having during lockdown. Giovana’s kid sister got stuck at a friend’s house, and their video chats reveal that the friend’s domineering father has created an unsafe environment for them. Giovana’s friend Sara (Kaya Rodrigues) is trapped alone, and every conversation Giovana has with her contains evidence of her increasingly depressive state brought on by prolonged isolation. Yago’s invalid father, meanwhile, is stuck with his nurse, who maybe doesn’t seem like the most trustworthy guy.
Post-production on “The Pink Cloud” began right around the time the world went into lockdown for real due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we at least could walk outside without worrying about dropping dead within 10 seconds, Gerbase appears to have had some strange foresight into what so much of quarantine would be like for so many people. The initial novelty of it, the feeling that it will all go away soon and we’ll be able to get back to normal life, gradually gives way to trauma and sadness and the realization that life isn’t getting back to normal, that this is the new normal. People become desperate, but they also have to adapt. For a time, while they are separated, Giovana and Yago try to see other people. Giovana interacts with a man she sees in a neighboring building’s window, and downloads an app for people left single in the cloud, while Yago dates a woman he will never be able to physically meet, only able to talk to her and “touch” her through a screen. When Giovana gives birth to their son, she and Yago have to be coached through the birth by a doctor through video chat.
“The Pink Cloud” may be a difficult watch for people who have struggled especially hard the last two years, but as nightmarish as it is, I also found something oddly cathartic about watching people undergoing similar experiences, but not due to covid. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Pink Cloud” ends up being more evocative of the covid era than films made explicitly about the pandemic. Gerbase, aided by strong performances from her leads, got to the heart of lockdown-induced trauma, even if the melancholy final scene feels like a bit of a cop-out. It’s going to be impossible to watch “The Pink Cloud” without bringing our own experiences to it, but Gerbase’s impressive debut film stands on its own merit as a remarkably tense and thoughtful character study.
“The Pink Cloud” is now playing in select theaters and will be available to watch on demand on all digital platforms on March 1. Runtime: 105 minutes. Rated R.
Media review screener courtesy Blue Fox Entertainment.