A Nuvem Rosa
starring Renata de Lélis, Eduardo Mendonça, Helena Becker, Girley Paes
written and directed by Iuli Gerbase
by Walter Chaw Iuli Gerbase's stunning feature debut The Pink Cloud owes a great deal to the insular psychodramas of J.G. Ballard, landing somewhere in the vicinity of a more specific High Rise in which the fall of society is focused through the decay of a relationship forged in quarantine. It works best as allegory, allying itself with something like Lorcan Finnegan's recent and similarly-pre-pandemic Vivarium, using science-fiction as a launch point to test the tensile strength of the tenterhooks tethering us to one another. The details of the corruption matter less than how we change when our environment changes--or, more specifically, how we fail to.
"Pink Cloud" can refer to a stage in addiction recovery where the addict feels a sense of euphoria that is generally followed immediately by extreme depression when presented with the reality that once a junkie, you're only ever "in recovery," never entirely cured. I lived about ten minutes from Columbine High School when the shooting happened. Helicopters flew over my house and Tom Brokaw set up shop at our Starbucks down the street. For months afterwards, the city was a morgue. People didn't raise their voices in public spaces. Evangelical Christians descended and the bullied were banished and further mortified for their crimes of not fitting in and for finishing books without pictures. An 11-year-old was murdered and tossed in a dumpster behind a Bed Bath & Beyond; a pair of Columbine survivors were shot to death at a Subway. I confess I myself lived in a curious sort of pink cloud, or shell at least, where if I could compartmentalize the atrocity of the world into confirmation of a worldview, perhaps I could continue in it without despair and suicide. More and more horrible news became sediment muffling, protecting my heart from breaking. The pink cloud was a shield. But clouds part now and then.
A pink cloud descends at the beginning of The Pink Cloud, and everyone caught in it dies within 10 seconds of exposure. Not horribly, just decisively. Public notices go out; people are encouraged to stay inside. Those who don't, die. These are the rules. Giovana (Renata de Lélis, who reminds a great deal of Annabella Sciorra) has just had a fun night with a relative stranger, Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), when the gate comes down. What began as a one-night stand with the possibility of love becomes a prison sentence where the two must navigate every stage of a committed, monogamous relationship in a sealed pressure cooker. Years pass with no solution for humanity except to occasionally kill ourselves. I admit, if it were that easy, I would have done it myself a hundred times over. I took solace that although The Pink Cloud offers the sweet release of death, there remains enough to living that not everyone takes it immediately. That's hope, right? At least some kind of faith in us. There are hints through the occasional video chat with lost friends and loved ones that atrocities are happening, that society has eroded to such a degree that should the cloud ever lift as mysteriously as it descended, there will be a period of recovery as long, or longer, as this period of trauma; and that the children brought up in their isolated diving bells have become hard and strange in captivity.
I love that the government devises a system of support that includes the distribution of food pills and a weird "juice" that seems to have ingredients that...what? What does it do? The Pink Cloud is paranoid about us, and paranoid about the help of others to the extent that a caretaker for Yago's increasingly-demented father is made the recipient of a lot of free-floating animus before disappearing like dad's mental facility. Giovana discovers at some point that Yago has stopped calling to check on his father. "What's the point? He doesn't know me." Her face reflects, I think, not horror at his being forgotten, but at her own realization that no one really knows anyone now that we've spent so much time mutating into strange things. There's more to unpack: the child they negotiate, the separation they endure in a space where separation is impossible, the emotional infidelities, and the eventual "resignation" of domesticity, which obliquely reminded me of Jacques Demy's ambiguous ending to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I guess I don't get a rise out of bad news anymore--not when it's all bad. It's all bad, all of the time, and this is all there is to look forward to. Best not to hope. There's no bottom and today is the last time it'll ever be this good.