“This film was written in 2017 and shot in 2019,” reads the pink-on-black Portuguese text that opens writer/director Iuli Gerbase’s feature debut The Pink Cloud (A Nuvem Rosa). “Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.”
No further elaboration is required to determine which actual events the film might be imagined to resemble – for in the period between its 2017 conception, its 2019 production, and its eventual world première (simultaneously in Brazilian cinemas and at Sundance) at the end of January in 2021, times and the world have radically changed. With Covid-19 shifting events on the ground from the end of 2019, the locked-in scenario that The Pink Cloud originally presented as a way of amplifying and intensifying the relationship between its characters now looks like an impossibly prescient portrait of our lives lived remotely under pandemic – even though the connections truly are ‘purely coincidental’, contingent upon the vagaries of film release schedules.
One day, without warning, mysterious pink clouds appear in skylines around the world, bringing with them a toxic gas that causes humans quietly to drop dead within ten seconds of exposure. As citizens are told to seal themselves immediately in the closest indoor shelter available, website designer Giovana (Renata de Lélis) takes refuge in her absent mother’s hillside home with chiropracter Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), whom Giovana met only the day before. Yet as the clouds become a fixture, and as the stay that Giovana and Iago initially envisage as being only for a day or so turns into weeks, then months, then years, and as their loved ones mature, age and die all at a distance, these relative strangers must negotiate and renegotiate a relationship that was originally just a one night stand. In a way they are very lucky. The Federal Government is relatively quick to arrange for food and other items to be home-delivered via drones and tubes. Giovana can easily (and lucratively) work from home. And the house that she is now forced to share with Yago is a cage very much of the gilded variety: large, affluently appointed and spread over two floors, enabling the two to live in relative comfort, whether together or apart. Early on, Giovana astutely refers to Yago and herself as an “Indian couple” (because “the most traditional Indian couples don’t meet until the wedding day”, and must learn only thereafter to live with, even like, each other) – but there are tensions between them from the start, and even the eventual arrival of a baby, Lino, fails to reconcile their underlying differences in outlook.
Using the passage of time itself as her barometer, Gerbase focuses on the damage wrought by the cloud on human connection. Having been separated from her husband at the beginning of the outbreak, Giovana’s best friend Sara (Kaya Rodrigues) must struggle and suffer entirely alone; Giovana’s little sister Júlia (Helena Becker) must spend her adolescence and sexual coming of age at a now never-ending girls’ party, where the only male in attendance is the birthday girl’s father; Yago’s own father Rui (Girley Paes) slowly succumbs to illness and dementia; and even as Giovana and Yago grow weary of each other, they must learn to navigate the frustrations of relationships with other people, whether through the screens of the internet, or even through more literal windows (Giovana conducts one brief affair with a man in the building opposite).
Also glimpsed occasionally through the windows are the clouds themselves – and their distinctive colour near permanently permeates the house’s interiors. Indeed, this is perhaps the pinkest film since Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) or Bruce McDonald’s Hellions (2015), with the hue’s subtle dominance of the film’s colour scheme marking the overwhelming ineluctability of the situation, as the baleful influence of the clouds on human affairs is visibly oppressive and ever-present. Yago may engage in mindfulness exercises to accommodate the here and now, and their growing son Lino, himself born under a cloud, may wholly accept, even worship, the puffy presences that govern their now limited lives, but Giovana, who cannot abide this new dispensation, oscillates between fixating on the endless mediated stream of bad news, and retreating into a virtual world of the imagination.
These closely observed behaviours – the boredom and claustrophobia, the strained relations and erotic alienation, the tragic hopefulness and even more tragic despair – have become all too familiar to viewers similarly confined to their homes by Covid in the last two years (and counting), which lends Gerbase’s vision the uncanny quality of a prophecy. Yet it is also worth contemplating what The Pink Cloud might have signified back when it was in production, pre-pandemic. Its heroine Giovana is unmarried, sexually active, self-employed and financially independent, and expressly states that she has no desire to have children. In other words, she is the very model of a modern woman, refusing to be tied down or in any way restricted by the expectations of men or male-dominated society. In all their unavoidable ubiquity, however, those pink clouds, carefully colour-coded to display a more backwardly conventional tradition of prescribed femininity, gradually force Giovana to cede her hard-won freedoms and choices, and to become the unhappy wife and mother that she had explictly never wished to be.
While now that pink cloud is an obvious metaphorical vehicle for the Coronavirus, before that its rosy tint served a different purpose, reshading, perhaps forever, Giovana’s self-image of autonomy and entrapping her in an inescapable prison-house of patriarchy whose insidious toxicity constantly threatens, one way or another, to suffocate her. So Gerbase’s film is not just a plague parable, but a feminist horror, using its finite domestic setting to dramatise how easily the hard-won rewards of women’s progress can be taken away, for the sole benefit of fathers and sons. From our present vantage point, we are privileged to see the film both ways, letting one reading bathe the other in its subdued, sickly light. Either view, though, affords a dispiriting reflection of where our species has ended up today, and how far we still have to go in future.
strap: Iuli Gerbase’s feature debut has had its view on patriarchy’s pervasiveness converted by events to pandemic parable
© Anton Bitel