Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Blue Fox Entertainment releases the film in theaters on Friday, January 14.
Make no mistake: Iuli Gerbase’s feature directorial debut is prescient, and not just another pandemic-centric property rushed out during times of global upheaval. The rising Brazilian filmmaker’s “The Pink Cloud” opens with a notation that is both funny and painful. “This film was written in 2017 and shot in 2019. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.” “Coincidental” is putting it mildly.
The Portuguese-language film opens innocently enough, literally all blue skies shining above. And yet, there’s something very wrong, with a discordant score playing over it all and a certain tension to cinematographer Bruno Polidoro’s framing that makes even the brightest of these vistas feel somehow off. Across them, a series of fluffy pink clouds float, moving perhaps a bit too fast. They are: and with murderous intent, as they dip low in the sky, and aim straight at a distant human figure and his dog. He collapses, the dog lives.
Elsewhere, a pair of sweaty new pals (Renata de Lélis and Eduardo Mendonça) are engaged in some particularly gymnastic sex acts, oblivious to what’s unfolding in the skies around them. In the morning, their slumber — outdoors, as we already know, a very bad idea indeed — is interrupted by a series of alerts on their phones. “It must be a joke” Giovana (de Lélis) shrugs, before the sirens kick in and announce the thing that will change everything: go inside, and close all your windows and doors now. They won’t open them for years.
While Gerbase wrote “The Pink Cloud” three years before the still-raging pandemic hit, the filmmaker cannily nails details that now just seem wildly prescient. There’s the initial disbelief, the rush to check on family and friends (via video chat!), political division, government failures, and the growing sense that nobody really knows anything about what’s going on. The basics are delivered early and never further fleshed out: pink clouds have appeared all over the world, and while they won’t push through windows or doors, if they meet a human in open air, they die within 10 seconds. Who (or what) sent it, what it’s made out of, how to battle it, when it will leave — none of this is ever answered, as the days stretch into weeks, months, and then years.
Gerbase’s shaky script does include some early, compelling ideas about where this might all go, including the advent of a tube-based delivery service that allows people to receive goods and a rising reliance on internet-based dating, though other breakthroughs are in very short supply (no one even talks about masks until whole years into the crisis). While mostly confined to the bubble Giovana and Yago (Mendonça) are trapped in after one night of passion, we get glimpses into other situations: a friend whose partner was at the bakery when the cloud came, Yago’s father who now only has the company of a caretaker he doesn’t like, and Giovana’s little sister, perpetually trapped at a sleepover.
As the film meanders onward, loose ends start to distract — where is the fresh food coming from? are we to believe fancy new advances are being made in technology, despite a lack of tangible resources? and what the hell is in the powdered pink juice the government keeps sending? — but perhaps the key to enjoying the film is to approach it like like its characters do with the eponymous puff: accept what is, or go wild trying to battle it.
Yago is of the former mind, moving steadily from understandable discomfort into loving the cloud and the life it affords him. Giovana is less pleased, and de Lélis turns in a layered performance as a complex woman trapped in even more complicated circumstances. Initial horniness — the first half of “The Pink Cloud” is very horny — gives way to forced domesticity, with all its own added stresses. Though Gerbase has conceived of a fascinating, timely inciting incident for her film, much of “The Pink Cloud” eventually melts into all the beats of a standard relationship drama. (And, yes, we mean all the beats.)
Both de Lélis and Mendonça turn in strong performances, able to evolve their characters over the course of nearly a decade and in bizarre circumstances. Their dueling takes on how the cloud has impacted their lives are treated with equal weight and resonance, as Gerbase shies away from ever casting either of them in a harsher light than the other. The audience, however, will likely not let them off so easy, unable to separate our own Pink Cloud experiences from those that flow from a fantasy that feels too real.
“The Pink Cloud” premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section.