“Written in 2017, shot in 2019, Official Selection Sundance 2021” — these words find themselves repeated often when promoting writer/director Iuli Gerbase’s feature-length directorial debut, the science fiction drama A Nuvem Rose, now more widely known as The Pink Cloud. These words are repeated not out of acclaim or prescience, but to avoid any presumption on the part of any potential audience that The Pink Cloud was developed with COVID-19 in mind, compared to recent releases like Songbird (2020), How It Ends (2021), The End of Us (2021), or Language Lessons (2021). Though the familiar emotions of isolation, fear, paranoia, and the starving desire for human connection are explored in Gerbase’s film, the more prevalent aspect, the driving portion, is an examination of the feminine, more specifically the way women more often than not have to quell their dreams and desires in service of others. When focused on this portion, The Pink Cloud is a searing and raw experience, ripping up centuries of patriarchal thinking and holding it to the light.
One day like any other, a series of pink clouds appeared in the skies. Aside from their color, what makes them different is a strange sentience, wherein they would grow closer to any individual they find outdoors and, once found, that person is dead within 10 seconds. In a panic to save their population, governments the world over institute immediate lockdowns, requiring all people to stay within whatever structure is closest as the clouds don’t seem to creep through crevasses, meaning that people seem to be safe with windows and doors locked. For Giovana (Renata de Lélis), this means she’s locked in with a man, Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), she only met the night before. The two try to make the best of things, but as the two grow closer, they also discover just how far apart they are, even as the two become three over time.
Considering the concept and our current reality, it makes sense that the promotional approach is to attempt, where possible, to distance the film from public perception. The Pink Cloud isn’t about a plague (Songbird), nature’s vengeance (Silent Night), or any number of possible considerations; the film is truly and completely about human connection and the ways in which women, specifically cis-het women, are expected to live within a certain restriction and any break from this is considered deviant. When we first meet Giovana, she’s smoking with Yago before the two have sex and fall asleep. To be precise, Giovana rides Yago to completion, the two waking the next morning having slept in a hammock. All of this is indicative of a free-spirited ideology or, at the very least, of people without certain adult responsibilities. As the film progresses, not only is all human life on Earth as we know it trapped indoors, but the freedoms the two once had are slowly taken from both of them. The difference between the characters being that Yago finds ways to remain positive about their circumstance, even in the worst moments, whereas Giovana longs for the world that used to be. Depending on your perspective and bias, this will either make Giovana appear as the villain or the victim of the story. Is she holding out for a life she used to have, thereby dissociating from the present, alienating Yago in the process, or is she in denial?
In its exploration of women and society’s expectations of them, even when in lockdown, the script smartly adds little things, small details, over time which add up to a gross weight of immense responsibility for the once free Giovana. For instance, we presume that the apartment the two individuals are enjoying belongs to either one of them, but it ends up belonging to neither: it’s Giovana’s mother’s. In a short conversation with a person we never meet, Giovana indicates that her mother wasn’t using it so why should it matter if she’s there. From a thematic perspective, this is the moment when Giovana takes on the role of her mother, the next one in line to live in this matriarchal property. That her job (web designer) allows for the two to survive in lockdown where his (chiropractor) does not, then places her in a position of responsibility for Yago, but also his sick father whom Yago supports from a distance. Similarly, as presented to us, Giovana attempts to virtually care for a friend locked down alone from her husband and her adolescent sister who was off at a house party with classmates. In the span of hours, Giovana went from borrowing her mother’s apartment to engage in single living revelry to metaphorical motherhood. That the conversation of actual motherhood between her and Yago results in their first fight — he wants children, she doesn’t, and he refuses to acknowledge her thoughts on it — is where the true strife of the film begins. Not with the clouds, but with Giovana’s agency being denied by someone with, honestly, no rights to do so.
Then there’s the design and function of the clouds themselves. A soft pink, the clouds look like gentle and delicate cotton candy, yet they’re ferocious. I described them as sentient because, in their presentation, they seem to move toward people when not hanging in the sky. They aren’t hunting, lingering outside windows or looking for places to sneak into buildings, they’re merely patiently waiting for people to appear. In modern society, pink is also a color assigned to femininity, to youth and health, and especially sex (specifically female genitalia). In one scene, Giovana has a nightmare of a cloud in her hallway, swirling toward her, filling the space with its pink gas, until all we see is a ball of billowing pink, an image used to transition from the nightmare into a pregnant belly. If we focus entirely on Giovana and her experience with the clouds, it’s as though she’s being driven toward a nuclear family lifestyle (one she doesn’t want) by forces beyond her control. To this end, The Pink Cloud is truly a horror show, not for its confinement, its similarity to lockdown conditions, or the on-going threat of COVID-19 and its variants, but for the way in which Gerbase presents independence shredded by a society seemingly eager to restrain women without regard to the person, only the womb.
Beyond Giovana is where the film stumbles quite a bit. In an effort to expand the narrative and its implications beyond the apartment, Giovana is given two other people to talk with who are having unique experiences (her friend Sara who is separated by location from their partner; her younger sister staying with other girls and a single male adult) and Yago tries to communicate with his aging father. These narratives highlight differing perspectives and imbue the film with dark tings amid an already difficult-at-times watch. However, they don’t seem to truly go anywhere within the central tale regarding how they impact the two central characters. Perhaps it’s because the film wants to highlight the isolation of the situation, but Giovana and Yago rarely seem to talk about what’s going on with others in their lives unless it’s in a fight. At which point, these side stories are little more than fuel keeping their ideologies empowered and their individual perceptions intact. For instance, Giovana longs for the kind of isolation that Sara has, whereas Yago (as much as he wants to be with his father) understands his limitations and accepts them. The difference being that Giovana would upend her world to get back to what she had where Yago only has to do nothing to keep what he has now. It’s a true frustration, especially given the potential emotional and narrative power of these side stories, that they don’t seem to really impact the central narrative beyond securing previously held convictions.
This said, there’s no doubt that Iuli Gerbase is a creative to keep an eye on. Even if not everything works seamlessly, Gerbase’s The Pink Cloud is rich with ideas, visually and narratively. There’s never a moment where the rules established break, where a line of dialogue reads as false, or where there’s not some nugget of truth placed before us. It’s cutting in its perception of modern gender roles, illustrating that the ties that bind sometimes are due to the tethers society places upon us at birth. Despite its inescapable comparison to life in a pandemic, The Pink Cloud is far less connected than one might expect, using an outside force not to explore the human condition in isolation, but to provide an opportunity to examine the absentminded ruthlessness of the patriarchy.
In select theaters beginning January 14th, 2022.
Available on VOD and digital March 1st, 2022.
For more information, head to Blue Fox Entertainment’s official The Pink Cloud webpage.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.