An opening title card for Brazilian director Iuli Gerbase’s first feature film “The Pink Cloud” informs us that she wrote the script in 2017 and shot the film in 2019, and so any resemblance to what happened to all of us during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 is pure coincidence. But Gerbase must have had some kind of spooky premonition about what was in store for the world when she conceived this story of humanity shut up in their homes because of a deadly pink cloud that makes people disappear within 10 seconds.
The opening shots of “The Pink Cloud” are outside views in widescreen that show pink clouds traveling over various landscapes as Caio Amon’s very expressive and edgy score plays as background. The cloud moves in and spreads, and we see a boy with his dog watching it on a dock; the rhythm of the editing is very measured as the cloud slowly engulfs them, and the boy vanishes. Gerbase’s decision to make the cloud light pink — which is not naturally a threatening color — turns out to be counterintuitively right, for the gentle hue gradually turns more and more oppressive as the film goes on.
We see Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) dancing and smoking together at a club, and she goes home with him and has sex. When they wake up in a hammock in the morning, and Yago first tells her about the pink cloud, she is mildly disbelieving: “It must be a joke,” she says softly. But it is deadly serious. A female voice announces from loudspeakers that everyone needs to go inside and shut their doors and windows.
Gerbase traps her protagonists at the edges of the frames as Giovana talks to her sister on the phone and Yago checks in with his aged father, and together, they all start to realize what this means. Yago is a chiropractor, and so he massages Giovana, and they keep things light at first; after all, this pink cloud thing might not last long, or scientists might figure out a way to neutralize it. As they sit eating together, Giovana says that her Trapped With a Hook-Up dilemma is somewhat like what an arranged marriage might feel like.
About 15 or so minutes into “The Pink Cloud,” a kind of panic sets in for the viewer that is similar to the panic that Giovana and Yago are trying to keep at bay. Gerbase has made shorts, and the premise of this movie would seem to call for a brief running time. The question almost immediately becomes how Gerbase is going to sustain this slender narrative over the length of a 104-minute feature.
Prisoner-of-war movies have always been popular because the characters are trapped but are almost always thinking of ways to escape, and they have their camaraderie. Movies about people being kidnapped and held captive are generally a problem, because we, the audience, want to escape the situation just as much as the solitary captive does.
In a movie like “The Pink Cloud,” which is very much a pandemic picture in spite of when Gerbase first conceived it, we are likely to start asking questions like, “Why am I staring at a screen of people staring at screens of their own?” As a director, you shouldn’t want the pandemic question, “How long will this go on?” to apply to your film.
The brave thing about “The Pink Cloud” is that Gerbase offers absolutely no relief from the ordeal of the central situation at any point, but that is also what makes watching it so grueling an experience. She pitilessly dissects the human urge to find the silver lining of a bad situation, and her surrogate seems to be Giovana, who mutters, “Aren’t people pathetic?” as she takes in various TV shows that are meant to make people somehow love this pink death cloud.
The skill and tough-mindedness put into “The Pink Cloud” are admirable. At the same time, it is so relentlessly bleak about a situation that we have all recently been through — and are still going through — that watching it is psychologically punishing. Gerbase offers no catharsis, because she knows that there cannot be one when the deck is so stacked against humanity. The result is extremely depressing.
Gerbase shows talent here, but viewing “The Pink Cloud” requires nerves of steel that might not be available to even the strongest among us at this particular point in time.
“The Pink Cloud” opens Jan. 14 in NYC and Jan. 21 in Los Angeles.