The Pink Cloud, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2021, brings a new meaning to the phrase, “life imitates art”. When Iuli Gerbase wrote the sci-fi thriller in 2017, she could not have known the extent to which it would resonate with viewers in the coming years. It follows the lives of two strangers who are forced to quarantine together when a deadly pink cloud appears, threatening to kill anyone who comes into contact with it for more than ten seconds. Despite its ethereal, futuristic atmosphere, at the heart of the film is a beautifully raw study of human nature in all its strength and fragility and its eery parallels with real life events only amplify its feminist objective.
Considering you wrote The Pink Cloud pre-Covid, it’s amazing that you were able to imagine a situation that at the time seemed so unbelievable. Have you always had that creative or imaginative instinct?
When I was a child I used to like writing short stories. They were silly and most of them I didn't finish, but it was already something I enjoyed doing to pass my time. When I entered film school, I knew that writing would probably be on my horizon, but directing was something that I discovered during the course.
What led to you become a writer and director?
My father is a writer and director as well, besides being a university professor. When I was little, I was always impressed by his ability to spend hours in silence in front of the computer, writing. He seemed peaceful. I guess I was born with the writing gene as well, because I feel happy and calm while writing and creating characters and plots. And what attracted me to direct was the possibility of connecting different kinds of art: photography, music, costumes, editing, etc. When the crew is nice in addition to being talented, the experience is so amazing.
This is a feminist film, which has gained a whole new meaning in our current climate of lockdowns. What made you relate feminism to being locked inside?
Throughout the film, we see that the female character, Giovana, has a harder time than Yago. Little by little, the pink cloud puts her in a place she didn't want to be in. She's locked up for a long time with this man that she just wanted to have a one night stand with, she has a child — which was never in her plans — and she can't leave the apartment. The cloud makes her follow the steps of the “perfect and traditional woman,” and that tortures her.
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It is painful to watch Giovana being forced into a life she didn’t choose. In terms of this feminist concept, what would you like your viewers to take away from the film?
I would like for the viewers to see that different people have different notions of what happiness and freedom mean to them. While Yago is satisfied with the life they have created, Giovana isn't, and that's not fair on her.
The titular pink cloud itself is strangely beautiful to see in the film, despite being deadly. Could you share your reasons for representing it this way?
Since the beginning my idea was that the cloud had to be pink, beautiful, soft and kind of seductive. Pink is usually the colour that is set aside for girls. We wear it from when we are babies. And it's a color that looks harmless. When Giovana stares at the cloud for the first time, she is kind of mesmerized by it. But then all the imposed femininity and female clichés suffocate her.
The film has been described as “an investigation into the human condition and our adjustment to the unimaginable.” Of course, you wrote it before Coronavirus was a thing. So, what challenges did you encounter imagining the “unimaginable”?
Since my focus was always on the mental and emotional journey, not on the practical and scientific aspects of the situation, I wanted to explain the science of it as little as possible. I showed how they got their food, and that's it. I wanted the viewers to focus on the relationship between Giovana and Yago, their differences as human beings, and the emotional struggles of living in confinement.
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The film explores the limitations of using technology and social media as a substitute for human connection. The characters are forced to challenge these limits and in many ways technology is shown to be dangerous, unnatural and even more isolating, which is interesting because during the pandemic, we have put so much emphasis on using social media to communicate and connect. Was it your intention to present technology in this way?
I think technology is great for connecting people. I just had an online Q&A where I talked to people that had just seen the film in a movie theater in Moscow. It was an amazing experience, that would not have been possible twenty years ago. However, I feel that technology is not enough during the moments that are difficult emotionally. There were moments during the pandemic when I really wanted to hug friends, either to be comforted or to comfort, and being far away was sad. That happens in the film with Giovana and her friend Sara and her sister Julia. She really wanted to be close to them.
One of the most striking elements of the film is the idea that a new generation didn’t mind the cloud. In fact, they love it because they have never known freedom like their parents have. What does freedom mean to you?
I am really grateful for having the privilege of being able to work with the thing I love, which is cinema. And in it, having creative freedom, even if I am always considering the budget and the limitations, is amazing. I wished that working with something that makes you feel fulfilled could be a reality for everyone.
Another great strength of the film is how deeply thought-through and multi-dimensional the characters are. Do you have any tips for creating complex characters?
I think you have to create both qualities and defects for them. But you have to understand the defects and to develop their personalities knowing that nothing is just black and white. Yago lives in denial, but at the same time he's the one that is being able to adapt to the situation. Giovana struggles, but she tries to cooperate, she tries to bring new things to the relationship. They are different people who try to cope in different ways. I like to focus more on the way that they react on the scene than on their background. It's good for the actors to know a little bit of the character's background. But if in the film we the writer and the actor are the only ones to know it, and some action is justified just by it, it won't work. I think the character can reveal a lot about himself by reacting to the circumstances. And the more difficult they are, more is revealed.
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Do you feel attached to these characters now that you have brought them to life?
Yes. I have been since the writing process. But what was crazy is that, with the pandemic happening, this time I also could feel like them. Some days I felt like Yago, being more optimistic and mentally listing the things I was grateful for, and other days I felt like Giovana, just fed up with the situation.
For the viewer, the atmosphere you’ve created is eerie and uncomfortable but at times intimate and funny. What was the atmosphere like on set?
We shot for four weeks, and three of them were all inside the same apartment. We knew that we were going to be in our own lockdown, very much closed together, for a long time so the producer and I always said: everyone that is going to be hired should be talented, but also nice and kind. We couldn't have someone who is constantly in a bad mood, for example. And it worked. The atmosphere was nice and calm, and we had fun. You just could feel the tension in the air on the day when we shot the birth scene. The AD (Assistant Director) made sure everyone was in silence, to respect the concentration of the actress. So the mood was very different that day, but when we finished shooting we were calm and playful again.
The film is character-driven and thought provoking. But it is also visually interesting and beautiful. How did you go about making stylistic choices like lighting?
I've worked with the DoP (Director of Photography) Bruno Polidoro, who is amazing. We knew from the beginning that this film's aesthetic would be far away from the typical sci-fi one. We wanted to find beautiful shades of pink, and for the film to have a seductive and pastel colour. The tone of the pink changes throughout the film, getting darker and more dangerous looking as time passes by. The conversations with the art director Bernardo Zortea were also important, because since we had a pink light all the time, the colour of the furniture was important. We didn't want to have red, orange or yellow objects and sofas, because they wouldn't add a good contrast with the pink. So we decided to have gray, green and dark blue on the background, to create a good composition. Before shooting, we already knew the exact pink shade that we wanted for the clouds that were going to be added in post-production. We needed to know that so we could put the right colour gels on the lightings that were outside the window and illuminating the face of the actors. The creation of the cloud was a long creative process with the DoP and the two Visual FX artists. It was my first time working with VFX, but I'm very happy with the result.
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Because of Covid, your film has become symbolic in a way that you couldn’t have predicted or intended. How do you feel about that?
The pandemic was and it still is so sad. Here in Brazil the situation is terrible at the moment, with packed hospitals. Some people that have watched the film have said that it was therapeutic for them. I hope it can help people to process some of the emotions which they dealt with during this period. It was not the initial intention, as I wrote it in 2017. But if it can help in any way, that's great.
Now that you’ve experienced a real life lockdown, is there anything you would change about the way you presented lockdown in the film?
For sure the president in The Pink Cloud is way faster and smarter than the one we have now, so that's one thing in the film that is far away from reality. But it's sci-fi, and I believe the main focus, their emotional journey as individuals and as a couple works really well. There is not a scene that while watching the film now I think, "No one would react like that.”
What are you working on next?
I'm working on another intimate sci-fi drama, and I can say that there is an alien character in it. Let's see if that also becomes true after we shoot it!
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