It doesn’t take long until you see the titular cloud in Iuli Gerbase’s dystopian drama A nuvem rosa (The Pink Cloud). A young woman is outside walking her dog when, as a rosy cloud hovers nearby, she collapses. The incident is not an isolated one. As we soon learn, those pink clouds have been spotted all over the world, not just in Brazil. Turns out the pink toxic gas takes just 10 seconds to kill you. It’s why everyone’s been instructed to close their windows, shut their doors, and stay indoors lest they suffer such a demise. It’s how, after a one-night stand, Giovana and Yago (Renata de Lélis and Eduardo Mendonça) find themselves shut in her apartment for months, and later years, on end.
Can you see why Gerbase makes sure to point out that “this film was written in 2017 and shot in 2019”? That disclaimer at the top of the film can’t help but also feel like an apology. What transpires over much of The Pink Cloud feels eerily familiar to what many of us have been experiencing for the past year. As the two strangers adapt to living within Giovanna’s two-story apartment — doing at home workouts, video chatting with family and friends, cooking every meal, etc. — they also have to contend with the kind of comments we heard too often back in Spring 2020: “I hope this thing goes away soon.”
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It goes on for far too long. It creates a new normal that eventually becomes unbearable for Giovana, even as Yago easily adapts to their domestic imprisonment. She yearns for the world outside. He’s content with his new walled-in existence.
On the page, this conceit feels tailor-made for the marital drama Gerbase envisions. Cut off from the world, Yago and Giovana become a textbook case to examine what intimacy between a make-shift couple looks like, and how long-term relationships weather that kind of inescapable proximity. Their crackling chemistry soon fizzles amid the mundanity of their everyday life. Their petty grievances soon balloon into unbearable pet peeves. She seeks solace by flirting with a neighbour across the street; he ends up getting an online girlfriend. But, given that they really can’t go anywhere else, they compromise and learn to live with one another. Eventually they even bring a son into their lives who serves as both glue and wedge between them.
As much as I wanted to be focused on Yago and Giovana’s relationship issues, I admit I spent the better part of the film obsessing about the details of this world Gerbase had dreamed up. The Pink Cloud imprisons us alongside its characters, leaving much of what’s taking place outside their doors similarly outside of our purview. For instance, the government installs tubes that safely deliver food and packages to everyone’s windows through the aid of drones. This suggests a robust government approach to the lockdown (perhaps the most sci-fi part of the film) but it also obscures so many questions about the logistics involved.
Is the gas not affecting certain workers? How about crops? Farms? How are news stations still operating when we also see people got stuck living in grocery stores when the lockdown orders went into effect? Are hospitals still working? At one point we hear the characters wonder why no one’s come up with any solution to allow people to go outside (masks maybe?) but the question is brushed aside. We’re supposed to believe people like Yago and Giovana have lived years under the threat of the “pink cloud” with only their personal grievances to concern them.
These questions nagged at me in a way they wouldn’t have a year ago. But they kept yanking me out of The Pink Cloud’s central conceit where the comforts of Yago and Giovana’s apartment life are window dressing for Gerbase’s staged conversations about intimacy, coupledom, parenthood, and, late in the film, the ability to mourn something that may never be so much lost as forgotten. Therein lies what makes The Pink Cloud such a discomfiting watch in 2020. So much of it feels familiar yet so much is also utterly alien.
Like the pink-hued lighting that dominates much of its cinematography, the film feels filtered through rose-colored glasses that nevertheless make everything in it look slightly off. As an inadvertent pandemic fable, The Pink Cloud is entrancing even as it demands too much of a suspension of disbelief to truly deliver. It’d be a missed opportunity were it not, as Gerbase reminds us, a story first dreamed up in 2017. The filmmaker couldn’t have anticipated the world that would receive her film. But those of us watching can’t not see it as a distorted mirror image we may well wish to avoid.
The Pink Cloud screened as a part of Sundance 2021, which runs until February 3.