Sundance 2021: ‘The Pink Cloud’

So, it could be worse. We could be confined entirely to our homes, windows and doors shut tight, a candy colored airborne toxic event spreading just outside, killing anyone exposed to it in the span of just ten seconds. No need for ICU beds. No use for a vaccine. The Pink Cloud, with its tint of static dawn or dusk, is a kind of miracle, maybe a judgement, an inexplicable phenomenon. It could be industrial or natural, temporary or permanent, no one seems to know or, eventually, care. There is no urgency to interpret it. What matters is that the cloud’s presence sets the conditions of life for the foreseeable future. At first it is an emergency. Later it is the only world there is: a distant line of cumuli, a pink tendril just outside the window, hovering there like a reflection in a mirror, reaching out, a temptation. What is it that we might want to continue to live for?

Like so many others around the world, Yago and Giovana, virtual strangers who’ve just spent a casual night together, find themselves trapped in their first shelter, Giovana’s parents home. They check on their family and friends via video chat. Giovana’s younger sister is safe at her girlfriend’s house eating snacks and playing Dance Dance Revolution. Yago’s elderly father is being cared for by his nurse, Diego, but they’ll need some extra money to keep up with the old man’s meds. A day goes by, and then another. A week. “How does a chiropractor make money without touching anyone,” Yago wonders, and Giovana, a web designer, assures him she can help him for a while. It’ll go away, they tell themselves, sooner or later. Clear up. Everything back to normal. They adapt and settle in, joking about learning to be in love, as in an arranged marriage, but mostly, at first, they’re just trying to help each other stay fed, clean, healthy, positive. 

More time passes. So subtly we barely notice it. Seasons are marked by love or animosity, uneasy peace. The cloud remains long enough to raise concerns about how kids like Giovana’s sister will sustain themselves as they begin to lose hope for a normal adolescence and adulthood, how newborns will adapt to an entirely interior existence, the outside world potentially (probably?) remaining inaccessible to them all their lives. “Do you love the cloud,” Yago is asked. An unanswerable question since there is no world without it. Can one learn, rather, to love the conditions of the cloud, to love living within its embrace?

The Pink Cloud remains unconcerned with the hope of global solutions developed by science or government. Rather its interest is in tracking individual responses to radical change and a suddenly reduced life, to the recalculations one makes to preserve what may be the most precious asset one has left in such circumstances: intimacy, the capacity to touch a body, to affect a companion with your physical and emotional presence. It’s uncanny how accurately director Iuli Gerbase and her cast, shooting the film in 2019, a full year before our real lockdown, anticipated the complex spectrum of our subsequent experiences. We recognize all of it. The pathetic inadequacy of communing on a screen and the desire to reach through it. The impulsive nostalgia for how things once were, the longing to get out and away. The inevitable friction of these desires against the more pragmatic, or perhaps defeatist, stance, of accepting (rather than defining) the new normal and trying to make the best of it. The constant struggle between optimism and pessimism, between escapism and clear-eyed coping, between very different views of what we might imagine of the future.

The Pink Cloud is a deeply moving film in which every response to catastrophe is exactly right. It’s an essential watch and a work that should rightly be preserved as one of the most insightful and empathetic responses to our present moment.

Read more about Sundance here.

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