Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase discusses her feature debut, The Pink Cloud, about a couple unable to leave their homes for years but shot before the pandemic.
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After a night of revelry and casual sex, perfect strangers Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça) suddenly find themselves stuck together in Giovana’s apartment because it’s no longer safe to go outside. Out of nowhere, a mysterious pink cloud descends over the world, and it will kill you if you’re within its vicinity for ten seconds. Brazillian writer-director Iuli Gerbase uses this sci-fi premise for her feature debut, The Pink Cloud, to explore a relationship at its limit: how do you learn to live with someone you didn’t choose for days, weeks, months, and years, when there’s no escape but death?
As we head into year two of the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Gerbase’s film feels like it’s tapping into the zeitgeist, but it was actually conceived of and shot before 2020. Watching it now, the situations are eerily recognizable, proving Gerbase impressively prescient. But it’s not what Gerbase gets right about the play-by-play of living in lockdown that makes the film so fascinating so much as how it shifts relationships. If you didn’t want to have a child because you want to keep your freedom to go places and do things, does that change when you can’t do those things anyway? How do you cope with a crushing reality with no escape but by inventing your own reality?
Gerbase describes the film as “intimate sci-fi”, an à propos description, because it’s not about the details of how you cope with lockdown. If I wanted to nit pick, I’d say it’s clearly written by someone outside of the colder parts of the world since in places like Toronto, Calgary, or Minneapolis, we have large overground and underground networks specifically designed to avoid ever having to go outside. If you lived in a Toronto apartment building with direct access to Toronto’s underground PATH network, would life with the pink cloud be different? Logistical questions are on our minds as we deal with the personal logistics of lockdown life, but the film encourages us to stay focused on the characters and their struggles. Shot entirely in a real Rio de Janeiro apartment, and set over the course of several years, Gerbase and her actors create a real, changing world where the characters are frustrated by how little opportunity for change there is.
Before the film’s world premiere in the World Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, I sat down with Iuli Gerbase to talk about how she conceived of the pink cloud, created the soundscape of a locked down world, crafted the lead performances, and more.
Seventh Row (7R): Where did the idea for The Pink Cloud come from?
Iuli Gerbase: When the film became reality [with the onset of a global pandemic], we were already in post-production, almost in the final cuts. I wrote it between 2016 and 2017. I had no idea that we would [be] living this situation.
The idea was to talk about this couple that gets stuck together, and they didn’t know each other before — exploring this relationship, their differences as people, and their different reactions to the cloud. And for each one of them, what happiness is and what freedom is, because they react in a very different way to the situation and to the cloud.
It’s mainly, for me, a relationship movie. We have the sci-fi element, but it’s not the focus.
7R: How did you think about what sci-fi elements you wanted to bring into the film? There’s the cloud, but then, I guess, there’s also the tube where they get things delivered. It’s very minimalist.
Iuli Gerbase: While I was writing the script, I was always thinking, What should I explain? I didn’t want to explain that much. I thought that the more explanation I gave, the more explanations the viewer would look for. I had to explain how they get food. Otherwise, the viewer will only think, “How are they eating? They don’t die from hunger?”
So I put the tube on the window, and they get food from the tube that some drone drops there. In the beginning, Giovana asks, “Why doesn’t the cloud enter through the small cracks on the window?” And that’s it, that’s all that we explain because I didn’t want it to have many sci-fi elements.
One of my references for the film was The Exterminating Angel by Bunuel, because they’re all stuck in that house and there’s not much of an explanation, Why are they stuck? Why, suddenly, in the end of the film, are they not stuck anymore? What’s happening? You don’t know.
The Pink Cloud is also a movie about the relationship between people and how they’re getting crazy during this lockdown, and not so much about the physical explanation of their confinement.
7R: What do you like about sci-fi?
Iuli Gerbase: It’s like having this thing that shakes reality, and then we see how the characters react to it. It could be a cloud, an alien — something that takes us out of our comfort zone of what we know. We see how the characters have a transformation. That’s what attracts me — not so much big wars or explosions, but having these weird elements that make the characters uncomfortable, and we see them getting crazy. I like these sci-fis that are more intimate like Under the Skin and Ex Machina.
7R: How did you think through how Giovana and Yago’s relationship would evolve and how they’d react to the pink cloud? They think it’s temporary, and then, before we know it, it’s been years and years and years.
Iuli Gerbase: In the beginning, it’s easier for Giovana, the woman. She’s not so nervous. He’s like, “I don’t want to get stuck here for a long time.” This changes when he sees he’s getting more of what he wanted — a normal family life — but it was not what she wanted. Then, Giovana gets worse, and Yago is more easygoing with this situation. You can see that her hair changes. They get older. We put some small wrinkles on their faces, and you see these different stages emotionally.
We shot, not entirely in order, but we had these big chunks, like, “Oh, now it’s two months. Now it’s two years. Now it’s nine years.” We could shoot those time periods in order, and that was great for the actors and for the crew, for us to change the apartments and to change the clothes.
7R: Because they spend the entire film inside the apartment, its design becomes really important. How did you think about what it should look like and how it should evolve over the years?
Iuli Gerbase: We had to pay attention to the colours because we had pink light [from the cloud] all around the apartment. For the furniture, we were choosing dark blue, gray, brown — not colours like pink or red, because otherwise, it would be too much pink, and we wouldn’t see the light as well. It was this really good relationship between the director of photography (DoP) and the production designer to see how we could enhance this pink lighting, having the set designed with specific colours.
We didn’t want it to be a catastrophic film with a lot of garbage in the apartment, and a lot of things falling apart. But you can see that the wall changes; they start painting on the wall. Some furniture is not that new anymore. We don’t want them to trash the whole place, but there is some passage of time.
When I wrote it, I was like, “We need a two-floor apartment for their separation.” It’s this weird divorce in the same apartment. We had so many divorces in 2020 in real life because of the pandemic. That was one thing I predicted.
7R: How did you think about what that pink cloud should look like and how it should aesthetically come into play in the film?
Iuli Gerbase: I always wanted the cloud to be this light pink, so it doesn’t look very threatening or dangerous. It’s almost hypnotic. When people see it, it almost attracts the person, like you want to touch it. It’s kind of poetic.
I didn’t want clouds with lightning or dark clouds, mainly in the beginning. Later, the cloud gets a little darker. I wanted the initial situation to be, “There is something outside. It doesn’t look very harmful. It looks okay.” Time passes by, and you realize, “Oh, this cloud is not going away,” and it affects the characters in a strong way. The idea was for it to seem harmless, but then, you see it is not.
We had to decide in which scenes we’re going to have the cloud itself. In the rest, I think the pink light already signals that the cloud is still here, and the soundtrack, too.
7R: How did you work with your director of photography? I imagine there are both challenges and opportunities in shooting in such a confined space.
Iuli Gerbase: We shot in a real Rio apartment. We didn’t want to shoot in a studio, because, I think, for the actors, [shooting on location] was good. We really felt we were confining the whole crew and the actors [to the apartment].
We had this rule that the camera would not go outside the apartment. So from the scene that they shut all the windows and doors, the camera is stuck, as well. And we didn’t cheat. The camera is inside all the time.
We shot for four weeks. In the fourth week, we were like, “What angle can we still explore?” We had already shot from all the angles we could imagine. It’s a real apartment; there aren’t so many possibilities.
But I think we manage it. In the beginning, the camera is more still, and then it gets more movement by the end, in the fighting scenes. I think we managed to have a variety of images and angles.
7R: What was the process for working with the two leads? At the beginning, they don’t know each other at all, but by the end, they know each other very well.
Iuli Gerbase: I knew both of them before. I have worked with them on short films of mine, and [short films by] other people, as well. They have known each other for a long time.
We rehearsed a lot. We don’t have improvisation in the film. It’s really following the script and the dialogue. We rehearsed for more than one month.
We had a long time, as well, with the child that was four years old, because they needed to have this friendship with the child actor for them to be able to do the scenes. We were always singing together and dancing together. We did these games where, “Oh. Let’s pretend we are all crying. Let’s pretend we are happy. Let’s repeat the sentence.” So, for the lines that he [the child actor] needed to give, we would play this game,”Repeat what I say.” He liked this game.
7R: What made you want to rehearse the film? What do you like about rehearsals?
Iuli Gerbase: For me, it’s always good to hear the actors saying the lines. Sometimes, I realise in the rehearsal that I could cut some lines, or I change some lines if they’re not so easy for the actors to speak.
Rehearsals are also important for finding the character. I think they were realizing many layers of Giovana and Yago, of the characters, and seeing how much emotion we want from each scene.
I recorded some scenes so I could watch them later, but they [the actors] never wanted to watch it. I think, for them, they would be too self-aware. I also didn’t want to rehearse so much that we would feel bored with the scene, or waste the energy of the scene.
7R: There are some interesting discussions in the film about whether or not they want children, and why they want them, or don’t want them. They end up having a child. How did you think about those discussions and why you wanted them to have a child in the end?
Iuli Gerbase: Giovana says, right from the beginning, that she doesn’t want to have a kid, and Yago really wants kids. So, in the beginning, they have this discussion like, “Well, we are stuck together, and I want kids, and you don’t.”
They have a kid after they are in lockdown. Giovana is so bored, and she doesn’t have anything else to do. She already explored the whole apartment. She bought roller skates. She did everything. So it was like, “Well, at least with a kid, I will have another person in the apartment.” Because they were sick of each other, as well. I think I would do the same. Like, “Well, let me have this new toy, this new kid to play with because I can’t stand just the two of us anymore.”
7R: As much as Giovana is bored and unhappy, it’s so much darker what’s happening to her younger sister.
Iuli Gerbase: The young sister is stuck at a sleepover party. In the beginning, she’s fine. She’s more or less twelve years old. There are four girls with one dad, who is the father of one of the girls. They have fun. They have popcorn, and they are dancing. Four years go by, and they become teenagers. So they start wanting to have relationships. Some start to do online dating, like a lot of people did during our pandemic. But then, well, should I spoil it?
7R: You can spoil it. This is a spoiler warning for a subplot in the film.
Iuli Gerbase: When they are, like, sixteen, one of them gets pregnant by the father of her friend. Giovana gets really affected by it. Like, What’s going on? Did he rape her? And then, she [Giovana’s sister] was like, “No. Who else would she have sex with? She wants to have sex. And the only man available is the father of her friend.” It’s this weird and dark situation. I think that could happen; teenagers want to explore. What is dark is that you don’t see the relationship. You just hear Giovana’s sister [talking about it].
7R: How did you approach shooting all those video chats? Giovana also talks a lot to her best friend through video chat.
Iuli Gerbase: In the first week, we shot all the supporting characters: Giovana’s friend, Giovana’s sister, and Yago’s father. The actors playing Giovana and Yago were there [on set] to talk with them. When we shot in the apartment with Giovana and Yago, they already had the [recorded] video on the cell phones, so they could interact.
Of course, it was difficult because they had to repeat the timing that they did before, because they were acting with a recording. But it was good having the reactions, and not just talking to a black screen.
7R: When Yago and Giovana decide to separate in the apartment, they both start dating. He’s dating online, and she has this sexual interaction with her neighbour through the window.
Iuli Gerbase: Yago starts a relationship online when he’s divorced, but Giovana was always trying to not follow what the cloud wants. She already had a baby, like the cloud wanted, in a way. She’s lost her freedom to go places.
So the relationship that she searches for is a little bit more real than Yago’s because at least it’s with the neighbour that she sees from her window. It’s the most physical relationship she can have at the moment. She prefers that to following what everyone else is doing, using Tinder. The app that they have in the film is called Infinite People. It’s like, all of a sudden, there are infinite people that you can talk with [online], but she doesn’t want that.
7R: Can you tell me about the sound in the film?
Iuli Gerbase: The idea for the sound design was accepting silence. We have some sounds of dogs from the neighbours, but we also felt, “Well, some neighbours will die, and then the dogs will die, as well.”
It was an experience for the sound designers because we didn’t have the normal sounds that you would put in an apartment, like the traffic, because there were no cars. We had to capture the silence. We had to dub some scenes, where we could hear a motorcycle or a car, so that we didn’t have traffic. We didn’t have people on the streets. We didn’t have airplanes. We didn’t have a lot of things.
So like, “What can we have?” You have these crickets, but crickets can’t be too present because they live in the city. We have dogs. We have some clocks, and we have the sounds of the apartment, like from the refrigerator. It’s something that we are noticing more now, in lockdown. My refrigerator is very loud, so I’m always closing the door to my room because it annoys me. So we had these different sounds that normally wouldn’t be so important on a film where life was normal. We had to think about how this new world would sound.
7R: There are a bunch of time jumps in the film. How did you think about how and whether to demarcate them?
Iuli Gerbase: We thought about it in the editing, if we were going to put titles with one year, three years. But we felt that because their son is growing older, it was already easy to see, “Oh, now it’s one year. Now it’s four years. Now it’s nine years.”
Before that, I think time is a little bit confusing in the film. But I think that’s also what we felt during the pandemic, mainly in the beginning: “I don’t know which day of the week it is today. It has been a week since that happened, but for me, it’s like it has been three months.”
Time is weird when you’re in lockdown. I used that as one of the excuses not to tell the audience exactly how much time has passed. But you see Giovana changing her mood, changing her hair, etc…
7R: Towards the end of the film, the two of them live in these different invented realities. She’s literally looking into VR glasses, and he has learned to ignore everything that upsets him. How did you think about their different reactions? Because there are similarities, too.
Iuli Gerbase: She has this way of denying reality, and Yago has his way of denying reality, by always being positive. He has this toxic positivity, always looking at the bright side. He doesn’t want to think about what’s going to happen with his son, that he’s alone in the house. They’re both alienated and not confronting reality for a long period of time, in different ways.
7R: Were you editing the film during the pandemic?
Iuli Gerbase: Yes. Of course, we started before. For us, the pandemic became more of a reality in March. By March, we had four cuts of the film, more or less, and then after the pandemic began, we did two more cuts. We were cutting and making it shorter.
Originally, the cloud was only in Brazil. And then when we started to see the pandemic was in the whole world, we thought it would be better that the cloud is also in the whole world. So in the beginning, you see the cloud is in London in that shot on the TV. That’s an idea that came after.
7R: How has your relationship with the film changed since the start of the pandemic? Was it like, “Oh wow. I was right”?
Iuli Gerbase: Even for me, it was very bizarre because I have watched it, and I have written it. I knew the film by heart. But when I watched it after my own confinement, I was like, “Oh my god.” The lines the actors said, they changed meaning.
Some days, I was not watching the film, but I was thinking about a line from the film. Like, “You have to focus on the positive side,” or “You can’t continue with thinking about the things you would like to be doing. Just focus on the possible.” It was like, “Oh my god, I’m talking just like one of the characters.” That was very bizarre.
7R: What are you working on next?
Iuli Gerbase: I’m working on an idea that is also sci-fi, but not so much sci-fi. It’s intimate sci-fi where the focus is the relationship, and what I can say now is that there is an alien visiting us.
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