Iuli Gerbase’s indie science fiction drama may have been made before COVID, but it perfectly captures our pandemic-laden despair.
The Pink Cloud opens with a disclaimer: “This film was written in 2017 and shot in 2019. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.” It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to realize just how necessary this disclaimer is because its parallels to the pandemic are frighteningly accurate. Only instead of a deadly disease keeping all the globe locked inside their homes, it’s a mysterious pink cloud that kills those that step outside almost instantly. Asking audiences to imagine a world where their lives are upended by a sudden quarantine that seems to stretch on indefinitely doesn’t actually require any imagination in 2022.
It’s almost impossible to imagine what the reaction to this film would be had it been released in, say, 2019. Moments in almost every scene feel prophetic, as if writer/director Iuli Gerbase knew all along what was coming. The overall result is a punishing and unrelenting 105 minutes that’s likely to transport viewers to the pandemic’s darkest days.
All this is to say that the story Gerbase set out to tell is far overshadowed by the current events dominating our daily lives. Watching Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) go from their carefree one-night-stand to grappling with a brand new reality as they’re forced to quarantine together ends up being a brilliant microcosm of the pandemic experience. But if we try to leave those comparisons behind, it’s a film that explores not just what kind of life is worth living but also what it’s like to fall into a relationship you can’t seem to pull yourself out of.
Time is slippery in The Pink Cloud, which makes it difficult to track where the duo is in their relationship at first. Initially, this feels like a real detriment. At some points, it’s actually difficult to grasp the gravity of certain conversations because it’s so unclear how much time has passed. The days slip into weeks and the weeks into months and by the time we realize years are passing, it snaps the picture into focus. We ride the waves with them, from the highs of their companionship to the lows, one of which is particularly well encapsulated by Giovana yelling at Yago, “I know every grey hair on your head! That’s not normal!”
Renata de Lélis is a scene-stealer, outshining the few other characters that appear. Her frustration and her loneliness are captivating. You can’t help but gravitate toward her. Ultimately, it’s the strength of her performance that pulls you onto Giovana’s side when the couple starts to argue more passionately about the state of the world and the future.
Because while their relationship plays out many of the ups and downs of traditional monogamy, they also stand as two opposing forces in a more philosophical argument. They’re optimism vs. pessimism, acceptance vs. denial, blind positivity vs. depression.
Giovana can’t let go of what she’s lost to the pink cloud, she’s insistent that a day will come when the cloud finally disappears. Yago is all too willing to accept its presence and make do, blindly refusing to engage with what it’s cost him.
The two suffer loneliness to be sure, but two distinctly different kinds. In both cases, Caio Amon’s score highlights and heightens that loneliness through ominous-sounding strings that almost mimic a horror soundtrack.
In many ways, horror is an apt word to describe the tone of the entire film. Because however much Gerbase may wish to distinguish The Pink Cloud from global events, it’s just too damn accurate at describing the emotional experience of the last two years. In fact, separating my experience with the film from my own unresolved pandemic trauma is difficult, perhaps impossible.
I can only recommend the film with the heaviest of caveats: be ready to get emotionally wrecked.
Currently, more than 20% of Los Angeles (where I live) has COVID-19. Nearly 30,000 people in this county alone and over 800,000 in the US have died from it. School systems across the country are shutting down again not just because they can’t stop the spread, but because they’ve lost so many substitutes to retirement and yes, death from the disease, there isn’t enough coverage in classrooms. To pretend I am in a place where I can reflect on the experience with any sense of distance is laughable. The pandemic isn’t over and if I’m being brutally honest, I’m no longer sure it ever will be.
Gerbase’s debut is so adept at striking the emotional core of the incredibly specific kind of pain the pandemic has inflicted on us. The process of watching it was like ripping into an already open wound.
I doubt many audiences are in a place where they’re eager to be thrust back into such a bleak headspace quite so bleak. I can only recommend the film with the heaviest of caveats: be ready to get emotionally wrecked.
That said, because The Pink Cloud was created in a world before our own pink cloud would descend, it may be among the most emotionally honest and accurate pieces of COVID art to exist. It’s completely free from the trappings of reality—there was no reality to try and mimic or adhere to when it was made. That means the only thing The Pink Cloud attempts to honor is its emotional core. And it does exactly that exquisitely. It may be a brutal watch, but if it isn’t cathartic for you now, I’m certain it will be eventually.
The Pink Cloud opens at the Quad in New York City Friday, January 14th and the Laemmle Monica Film Center in LA January 21st. It’ll come to digital and VOD March 1st.