After watching The Pink Cloud, viewers may wonder if Brazilian director Iuli Gerbase is a prophet. Her debut feature, which she also wrote, is a staggeringly original science fiction tale about life in perpetual quarantine. It’s strange how something written in 2017 and shot in 2019 can fully encapsulate so many of the feelings brought on by the pandemic of 2020. All at once it’s a family drama, a foreboding environmental thriller, and a character study addressing gender, sex, and loneliness.
Fiercely independent web designer Giovana (Renata de Lélis) finds her life irrevocably altered by the sudden global arrival of a deadly pink-colored miasma blanketing the sky. The night before, she hooked up with Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), a chiropractor she barely knows. Now they’re stuck with each other, forced to get along in Giovana’s apartment. The internet and their phones become their only contact with the outside world. The cloud kills within seconds, so they cannot even take short walks to escape each other’s company. From the beginning, Yago is more receptive to the circumstances than Giovana, using the cloud as an opportunity to build his life around her. Since his profession requires touch, he’s immediately unemployed and aimless, with only her to give him purpose and validation. Giovana is hesitant to reciprocate, but since she cannot escape him, she gives in as he pushes her into continuing their sexual relationship, despite his transparent goal of marriage and children.
Though not a horror movie, The Pink Cloud presents a terrifying situation that is automatically identifiable to any woman. Though Yago is not physically forceful, Giovana makes all of her choices under the threat of death. Independence is never an option for her, so she is compelled to either live a life of conflict or succumb to the supposed comforts of a nuclear family. Over time, she is worn down by Yago’s unwavering persistence, bolstered by their isolation. While he becomes happier with their life, she becomes more and more depressed, desperate for time to herself. It’s astounding how the film is able to capture the kind of environment so many people are still dealing with under COVID-19.
This becomes even more terrifying when we consider the sheer number of people forced to make life-altering decisions during this time with virtually no support system. This is exemplified perfectly by Giovana’s increasingly dark conversations with her kid sister Júlia (Helena Becker) and best friend Sara (Kaya Rodrigues). Júlia and her friends were having a sleepover when the cloud hit, and are now quarantined with a grown man who later sets his sights on them. Sara lives alone and is plagued by suicidal ideation. Compared to them, Giovana has it relatively easy, which is perhaps why it takes until late in the film for her to acknowledge the full depth of her sadness. These situations are made all the more ominous by the fact that the government seems unable to find any sort of solution. The pink cloud creates Purgatory on Earth.
Gerbase cleverly makes cute aesthetic choices foreboding. The cloud has a leitmotif built around ironically peaceful woodwinds, which are more readily associated with the beauty of nature. That sound and the color pink itself become more sinister throughout the film. Similarly, Yago goes from the kind of playful bearded guy who wouldn’t look out of place in an Apatow film to a hard, traditionally masculine presence. His reverence for the cloud morphs into something resembling religious fanaticism; he begins praying to it and embracing the color pink as a sign of divinity.
The Pink Cloud is a relentlessly upsetting fable, bringing us into a gilded cage with a tragic beauty and texture. The dialogue and pacing is slow and ponderous, giving us the sense that we are suffering along with the heroine. As Giovana, de Lélis gives an incredible performance as a surrogate for all of us trapped in our homes. The movie doesn’t need to pull any tricks to scare us; its horror lies in its simplicity.
The Pink Cloud recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It will be available to purchase on demand for 24 hours beginning January 31 at 12:00 p.m. EST.