Director: luli Gerbase
Cast: Renata de Lelis, Eduardo Mendonca
The Pink Cloud has an eerily familiar premise. When a toxic pink-coloured cloud appears over their Brazilian city, 30-somethings Giovana and Yago are forced to extend their passionate one-night stand into an indefinite quarantine period. The air allegedly kills a human in ten seconds, so the two strangers settle into the shelter of her family apartment. No doors and windows can be opened. The government devises a drone-driven closed-tube system to deliver essentials. The arc of this unlikely "marriage" is accelerated in lockdown – companionship becomes a form of collateral damage – even as their only contact with loved ones stays digital. His chiropractic therapy becomes web therapy; Youtube videos become self-sufficiency manuals. Social isolation is the new normal. Days turn into months, months turn into years.
Now here's the kicker. The Pink Cloud was conceived and shot by director luli Gerbase before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In essence, she set about creating a sci-fi drama to make a profound point about human nature. The accidental consequence, in 2021, is a chamber drama that makes a lived-in point about human nature. In a way, Gerbase must feel a lot like political satirists did after Trump took office – what was once an audacious social experiment is now a shocking reality. But the worst time to be a storyteller is the best time to be a storyteller. On one hand, the timing dilutes the novelty of her film; nothing in it is beyond the realms of imagination anymore. The deteriorating mental health of an isolated friend, a parent going senile, a partner getting lost in the virtual world, rumours of the cloud "disappitating" in the winter, cabin fever, the breakdown of moral codes – it's all true, except longer. On the other hand, our current circumstances make the film more relatable and less absurd – this eliminates the "genre" and instead turns the premise into a sharp commentary on social conditioning. For better or worse, it's impossible to divorce the film from the context of our times. You have to admit though: It's somewhat lyrical that the definitive quarantine film of this generation came into existence before the coronavirus did.
In the first few days of lockdown, Giovana jokingly tells Yago that theirs is like an Indian (arranged) marriage – a relationship in reverse, starting with two strangers having sex, followed by the getting-to-know-each-other and living-together phases. It's a nice reference, and an appropriate lens to understand the film through. (Just replace their families with a poisonous pink cloud; for most, it's hard to tell the difference anyway.). The two start to get physically – and then mentally – intimate with one another because they have no real choice. Their first fight revolves around one partner wanting stability and kids, and the other wanting a "selfish" lifestyle. When their relationship plateaus, they indulge in a bit of roleplay, with the moody pink light washing over their nights with seedy splendour.
Once it becomes clear that the clouds might be there to stay, they decide to shrink their future to fit the four walls of the apartment: a son is born, a family takes flight. When they reach a dead end, they "separate" in the more conventional sense of the term: He lives upstairs, and she downstairs. In the most striking moment of the film, one of them – desperate for touch, driven by carnal rage – masturbates against the glass window for a neighbour in the opposite building. The scene is both sensual and tragic, a riff on virtual sex that – when stripped off social structure and physical accountability – reveals how yesterday's creepy can turn into today's melancholy.
The performances by the leads are exemplary in how, for most of the film, it's their body language rather than physical appearance that advance the film's sense of time
For an all-out chamber drama, The Pink Cloud is shot with a distinct eye for light. The distinction between day and night, old and new, is visual – a masterful play on space, shadows, motion and blocking. Usually, films that span over a decade tend to have abrupt transitions of time. For instance, seconds after we see the son as an infant, he enters what seems like the very next scene mid-way as an older kid. That's when we notice the man's thinning beard, and the woman's 'mature' hairstyle; such films thrive on these little sleight-of-narrative tricks. But the performances by the leads are exemplary in how, for most of the film, it's their body language rather than physical appearance that advance the film's sense of time. They just seem to be different, more weary and experienced people in every subsequent scene. There are slight alterations to the way they interact, walk, watch and inhabit their spaces – changes so subtle that they're almost invisible to the naked eye. This allows the film to eschew the gimmickry and trust in the art of emotional continuity. After all, the clouds – both external and internal – persist. The sky endures. It's the eyes that decide if there is colour to be seen.