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Sundance Interview: Iuli Gerbase on the Unintentional COVID-19 Allegory of ‘The Pink Cloud’

The Pink Cloud - Director Iuli Gerbase

When Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase conceived her debut feature The Pink Cloud four years ago, she had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic would come to frame her film in a new light. Now that it has finally been released, this drama – about a new couple forced to quarantine due to a deadly pink cloud – feels eerily prescient about the world we live in. Following the film’s world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Awards Radar caught up with Iuli Gerbase to discuss the original ideas behind the story and its unexpected relevance. Below is an edited version of that conversation.

Shane Slater: Your film obviously feels so prescient, but it was made before COVID-19. So where did these ideas come from?

Iuli Gerbase: My idea in the beginning was to make a film about a couple with a strange relationship because they are living in a kind of forced marriage. So I wanted to focus on these two people that were together for many years without wanting to be. After that came the idea of the cloud. I wanted it to be “unrealistic.” I didn’t want them to be stuck because of a war or something very realistic.

So the pink cloud was this mysterious thing that they don’t know. It’s a substance and they don’t know why it’s there and when it’s going to leave. So they just have to figure things out and try to have a relationship in the best way possible. But then many years pass and it’s not easy for them. So we see their emotional trajectory, we see them struggling and their different points of view. It’s not easy for them.

SS: You conceived the story with these ideas in mind and now COVID-19 has completely changed the conversation around the film. How does that make you feel as a filmmaker? Is it something you’re embracing?

IG: [Laughs]. I don’t have a choice, I have to embrace it! For me, it was very strange. When I watched the film, I already knew the script by heart. I watched many cuts, many times. And when I watched it after my own confinement here in Brazil, I was like, oh my God! That’s so strange because the characters were saying things in my head and vice versa. I started to think as the characters and it was very bizarre. Some days I felt like Yago and some days I felt like Giovana.

In the beginning, I was afraid that people would watch the film and only see the cloud as the virus. I thought, now my movie is just about the virus. But I’m happy to see the reviews and people commenting on social media. They are able find other possible meanings for the cloud. So I’m happy we’re not just thinking about COVID but other possibilities.

SS: The color pink isn’t usually associated with death and sinister things. What was the thinking behind choosing pink for the cloud and by extension, the color tone of the film?

IG: The idea behind the pink color was that I didn’t want the cloud to seem threatening. I wanted to it seem like it wouldn’t do you any harm. And then time passes and you see that the cloud is not a cute thing. Also, pink is a color mostly designated to women and you see that the woman in the film is suffering the most. So it’s playing with femininity and women’s freedom. Giovana is losing her freedom and the cloud is making her suffer.

SS: It’s interesting that the central family only knows each other within the context of this unusual situation. Did you always intend for them to have a child during their confinement?

IG: Yes, I think the child is very important. For me, it’s not because they are totally in love. Yago really wants a child but for Giovana, more than a year has passed and at least a kid will be someone new in the house. But then, you see that the kid is on Yago’s side so after some time, it’s two against one. The men are sticking together and liking the cloud. For Giovana, it’s very hard.

Renata de Lélis appears in The Pink Cloud by Iuli Gerbase, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

SS: Was there ever a version of this film that went outside of this single setting? We usually see other disaster films from a more epic, global perspective.

IG: From the beginning, it was always about this couple. And we see the world through their screens. Their cell phones and computers. So we see what they see and we don’t know what else is going on. It’s also about them being alienated in this bubble. Yago doesn’t even want to see the news. He wants to deny everything that is wrong with the world. So my idea was to always stick with them.

SS: Watching this during the pandemic made it feel like a horror for me, because the cloud lasts for so long. I’m curious to know how other audiences responded at the Sundance premiere, especially when we are in a virtual format because we’re living in this situation?

IG: Many people were saying this would be a drama two years ago, but now it’s kind of a horror. And I’m watching it in my house because Sundance is online. It’s so bizarre. Some people said it’s too hard for them, and that it was even hard to judge the film because it’s so relatable and prescient. At the same time, you have people saying that it was kind of therapeutic for them. They were seeing themselves and their emotions in the film. People related to it a lot.

I think it’s not very easy to watch. It’s uncomfortable sometimes. But I love when I see myself in characters in movies and I can understand more about myself and my situation. So I think there can be a positive side to it.

SS: Now that we’ve basically lived out the movie, was there anything that now rings false? Would you have changed anything in the script?

IG: I think that is a very positive aspect of the film because there is not one thing that feels false. Even the bizarre influencer behavior in the film, I saw that right at the beginning of the pandemic. People telling us how to make money from the pandemic and that we have to see the bright side. And I thought, oh my God. They are crazy just like the influencers in the film. So I wouldn’t change anything. I really think I got it right.

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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