Review: The fantastical ‘The Pink Cloud’ eerily mirrors our pandemic reality
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Does a fantastic premise have more or less impact if it stops being fantasy? Or just a different kind of impact? That’s the curious situation Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase’s “The Pink Cloud” finds itself in, enough so that it opens with a making-of disclaimer — that it was written in 2017, filmed in 2019, and that any resemblance to real events is “purely coincidental.”
Anyone not grasping the significance of those date markers will do so very shortly. The movie opens with a placid skyline changed by the sudden appearance of some wispy carnation-colored formations, while an ominously rippling score emerges, sounding like a wind instrument section on the attack. Then we see a boy with his dog on a seaside walk. Suddenly surrounded by an approaching puff of pink, he collapses.
The next morning, Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) — 30-somethings who have only met the night before — wake up in her high-rise apartment to sirens blaring and a woman’s voice over a loudspeaker telling everyone to close all windows and doors, to get inside the nearest building and stay there. “It must be a joke,” Giovana initially thinks. But newscasters speak of the pink clouds as a toxic gas that can kill in 10 seconds.
Gerbase, who also wrote “The Pink Cloud,” obviously thought she was conjuring a Buñuel-like surreality through which to explore a confinement drama, not a contemporary mirror of a global pandemic. But that unforeseen (and spooky) bridging of intention and reality doesn’t make her assured, well-acted feature debut any less resonant or haunting as an allegorical portrait of our modern anxieties and delusions, especially as they pertain to societal expectations women still find themselves facing.
At first it seems like a laughably strange vacation from the world — with food and supplies delivered by the government via drones, and through tubes installed into outside walls. But it morphs into a years-long relationship that exposes the chasm between Giovana’s and Yago’s outlooks on life, boundaries, and what adaptation means. Yago pivots quickly and handily from his old identity — chiropractors are officially useless now — as if captivity had awakened something paternal, domestic, and even upbeat in him. But for self-possessed Giovana, who never wanted kids, the severing from her psyche of that special alchemy of danger, desire and achievement that characterizes making one’s way in the world, begins to feel like a kind of death. (Gerbase’s choice of hue for her invented harbinger of female repression is no accident.)
Though forced togetherness is a pointedly barbed scenario to throw at a pair of strangers after one night of carefree sex, Gerbase doesn’t see much humor to mine in the petri-dish human dynamics of “The Pink Cloud.” The pair’s video chats with loved ones give us glimpses into other situations — Yago’s infirm dad, Giovana’s school-age sister (Helena Becker) stuck at a classmate’s house, a lonely friend (Kaya Rodrigues) used to being around people — but hope is hardly to be found. Unless one chooses to believe the new swath of reality shows, advertisements and online personalities who try to sell everyone on the disguised blessings in being held prisoner by a toxic outdoors. (No more car crashes or kidnappings!) Giovana, unmoved, grows only more pessimistic about the human condition, and starts looking for ways to escape.
Needless to say, because of the past two years, this reliably bleak, artfully handled vision is just relatable enough that it won’t be everyone’s cup of familiar, even as its effect is burnished by De Lélis’ and Mendonça’s committed, knife’s-edge portrayals and cinematographer Bruno Polidoro’s evocatively airless interior compositions. But if you’re game for an emerging filmmaking talent’s stingingly uncanny foretelling, “The Pink Cloud” is an arresting examination of what it can look like when existence is misshaped into a compromised destiny.
'The Pink Cloud'
In Portuguese with English subtitles
Rated: R for sexual content/nudity, some language and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 21, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
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