At this point in the pandemic, most of us have become acutely aware of the relative saving graces and limitations of technology as a tool for communication and authentic interaction. We’ve learned isolation can birth intense loneliness and depression. There is no substitute for human physical interaction, and there likely never will be. This truth wound up particularly if unintentionally hitting home in the new Brazilian sci-fi character drama The Pink Cloud.
Written in 2017 and filmed in 2019 before the rise of COVID, the movie is about an ominous, toxic pink cloud that shows up across the globe, killing anyone exposed to it within 10 seconds, requiring everyone to quarantine themselves inside indefinitely to save themselves. This emotionally effecting slow burn is an impressive, and unfortunately prescient feature film debut for writer/director Iuli Gerbase.
On the news, videos from across the world show people dropping dead. In Brazil, Giovana and Yago have just had a one night stand, when they hear sirens warning them to get inside immediately and close all the windows and doors. What begins as a lark between two near-strangers becomes a potentially permanent lockdown. Alone together for years, they experience their days very differently. Yago adapts and leans into it, feeling freed of societal expectations, whereas for Giovana, it is forced imprisonment. As time wears on, they become parents to Rui, though early in their captivity together, Giovana tells Yago she definitely doesn’t want children. Will the pink cloud ever release them, or will they be cut off, along with the rest of the world, to be confined until the day they die?
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how, through Giovana, the feminine perspective is portrayed. In one way, the pink cloud represents limiting societal expectations for women. A pastel rosy hue, the cloud doesn’t look threatening or suffocating to those it encounters, but the dangers are just as real. Giovana starts out having self determination and freedom, which includes choosing against motherhood for herself, something neither Yago nor society find acceptable. Over the course of their confinement, she has less and less hope, and gives in by following societal expectations of settling down, having a child, and fighting a losing battle to repress her desires. She doesn’t want to live with one man forever, yet with Yago, even her imaginative attempts at role playing are shut down.
The Pink Cloud really invites us to consider, both individually and as a society, how much we do or do not need physical interaction with nature and other humans. As much as they are celebrated as advancements, distanced interactions through technologies like virtual reality, Zoom, social media, and iPhones are not enough. It also reminds us just how much worse it could be than it has been in the last two years. It’s been hard, but at least we can go outside. At least it probably won’t last forever.
And that’s another interesting, and potentially the most challenging part of The Pink Cloud, given how the pandemic has played out so far with variants that keep showing up. We can’t help but vacillate between attempting to make peace with the present while trusting we’ll get through it, and losing hope that it’ll ever really be over.
The film may sometimes get a bit lost in the simplicity of its conceit. It doesn’t do to ask questions like “why can’t they use gas masks?” As storyteller, Gerbase has explained that she is far more interested in presenting a sort of existential situation along the lines of Buñuel or Satre, where logic is abandoned as necessary. Still, she is asking lots of questions about the nature of being human, and examining loneliness and the battle between hope and despair many of us either have or will face at some point in our lives. That real world events mean that The Pink Cloud reflects this moment in history makes it heartbreaking and fascinating cinema.
4 out of 5 stars.