The first months of 2020 were surreal for most everyone on the planet, but they must have been especially so for Iuli Gerbase. The year before, the Brazilian filmmaker shot a script she wrote back in 2017 for a movie called The Pink Cloud, a meditative sci-fi drama about the long-term psychological effects of being stuck in lockdown for extended periods of time. If that sounds familiar, there’s one key difference between our current reality and the film’s: The thing keeping everyone inside isn’t a virus. It’s the pink cloud of the title—a meteorological phenomenon that’s soothing to the eye but fatal to anyone who inhales its vapors.
At the beginning of the film, as clouds spontaneously appear around the globe, young city-dwellers Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) wake up from a one-night stand to the sound of sirens. A voice on a loudspeaker tells them to get inside as soon as possible, lock all the doors and windows, and stay there until further notice. “Further notice” stretches first into weeks, then months, and finally years, as Giovana and Yago—who had known each other for less than 24 hours before quarantining together—learn to accept that this is what their lives are going to be like from now on. Food will arrive through a government-installed tube. Visits with friends will be over video chat. They will not touch another human being until this is all over. Whenever that might be.
The eerie thing about The Pink Cloud is how it anticipates multiple aspects of the lockdown experience, from deniers to increased alcohol consumption to the dissociative effects of living a life mediated through screens. Gerbase, making an impressive feature debut, proves herself a sensitive observer of human nature. The Pink Cloud joins a tradition of sci-fi films like Her that are less interested in their futuristic concepts than how they might affect people.
The prescient aspects of the film aren’t always a good thing, though that’s no fault of the filmmaker. Long fights between Giovana and Yago are made all the more tedious by their (again, wholly coincidental) resemblance to the ones millions of couples have experienced over the past 22 months. Gerbase does lend the material some visual interest, via both the camerawork and the pink cloud itself, an inescapable menace that bathes everything in a soft pink light. Cutaways to the cloud give it varying textures at different stages of the event, from chewed bubblegum to the coarse, wiry look of dyed poodle fur. But monotony is monotony, especially when it’s reflecting a mind-numbing reality.
It’s tempting to call Gerbase a prophet. But more than anything, The Pink Cloud just demonstrates how COVID accelerated pre-existing societal trends. Many people were already moving toward lives lived almost entirely online before the virus emerged as a global threat; Gerbase was simply perceptive enough to see that. The Pink Cloud is most interesting when viewed as a feminist metaphor, dramatizing how the trap of marriage and motherhood can spring on a woman without her even realizing it. This thoughtful film reflects well on the writer-director who made it. Hopefully she’ll understand if viewers need a little distance from the now before they can really engage with it.