Brazilian director Iuli Gerbase’s sci-fi-tinged feature debut presents a version of the apocalypse that will be inevitably referenced as an example of “pandemic cinema.” This is chiefly due to the film’s premise of a toxic pink cloud forcing citizens around the globe to hunker down indoors for an indeterminate (and seemingly infinite) period of time, coincidentally mirroring our current COVID crisis.
Essentially no more than strangers when the pink cloud appears over their Brazilian city, Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) are compelled to foster a domestic relationship in order to combat the loneliness of being separated from friends and family. As their relationship progresses (or, more aptly, as the cloud-induced quarantine persists), Giovana and Yago begin to discuss their stances on conventional relationship trajectories. A palpable rift appears when Giovana reveals that she does not want to have a child, emphasizing that it would be cruel to raise one in such cramped quarters, never able to experience the beauty of the natural world if the cloud were to endure.
Perhaps predictably, Giovana’s hard stance on motherhood turns out to be more malleable than she previously thought. While pregnancy, birth and newfound parenthood is presented as an exciting adventure within the boundaries of the new normal, she begins to retreat from her role as a wife, mother and caretaker, instead opting for the manufactured freedom of the virtual realm, where responsibilities and social pressures are non-existent.
It’s impressive (and downright uncanny) that a film written in 2017 and shot in 2019 accurately predicts so many of the specific sensations of living under quarantine: the sudden abundance of elastic waistbands, an immediate dependence on resources being delivered through a monolithic mail-order system, the stray thought of “what will happen to homeless people?” puncturing the bubble of an otherwise mundane conversation. Yet the film captures more than the oppressive boredom and listlessness that an extended quarantine entails, as the cloud itself makes a striking allegory for the imposition of traditional tenets of femininity in conventional heterosexual relationships.
The Pink Cloud explores the often reactionary nature of humans, especially when tasked with imagining a future completely uprooted from convention. Despite the characters being severed from the rest of society, there is a distinct choice to remain entrenched in the social mores of a world left behind. A man and a woman must propagate, sex (even virtually) is reserved for committed heterosexual partners, the woman rears the child while the man lazes around and does whatever he pleases—and God forbid this specific dynamic inverses. The frustrating yet verifiable reality is that when people are scared of losing the world as they know it, they cling to norms that no longer serve them.
“Why do you suffer for things you can’t change?” Yago asks Giovana one day out of frustration. While the sentiment spawns from Giovana’s fretting over a disturbing internet video, this attitude recalls an oppressively familiar line of thought: Women are simply destined to be natural caregivers, and any retaliation would simply be a waste of precious maternal energy. Much like the mysteriously ubiquitous pink drink that so frequently appears on the family’s dinner table, the easy-to-swallow nature of complacency is doled out on a massive scale. At one point, Yago remarks that he no longer notices its taste.
The titular pink cloud is much akin to a New Jersey sunset—beautiful from a neutral, uninformed viewpoint, but its existence is undeniably marred in toxicity. Motherhood and femininity can appear similarly as a beacon of unparalleled beauty and grace, yet still indicate a larger system that rewards assimilation to the status-quo. The Pink Cloud surmises that this urge to assimilate only intensifies when society begins to finally break down.
Director: Iuli Gerbase
Writer: Iuli Gerbase
Stars: Renata de Lélis, Eduardo Mendonça, Kaya Rodrigues, Helena Becker, Girley Paes
Release Date: January 28, 2021 (Sundance Film Festival)
Natalia Keogan is a Queens-based writer who covers film, music and culture, with particular interest in the horror genre and depictions of sexuality and gender. You can read her work in Narratively, Filmmaker Magazine and Paste, and find her on Twitter.