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▶ Apples is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema. The Pink Cloud is awaiting UK distribution.
In the year of lockdown, it has been tempting – perhaps unavoidable – to interpret just about any new film as being somehow indirectly about the pandemic experience.
That’s why two recent features have felt so particularly resonant – because they are specifically about experiences very close to home. Greek drama Apples, by writer-director Christos Nikou, is about a man trying to reconstruct his shattered life during a pandemic that causes amnesia. Iuli Gerbase’s The Pink Cloud, from Brazil, is more directly about lockdown experience: it involves a mysterious weather phenomenon that forces people to shelter indoors indefinitely.
Both films voice our current mood of anxiety with striking directness – yet in both cases, the relation to real world conditions is entirely coincidental. Gerbase wrote her film in 2017 and shot it in 2019, while Nikou – who originally wrote Apples seven years ago in response to the death of his father – stresses that his film is less about a pandemic per se than about questions of memory and self.
“I think in the first 10 to 20 minutes,” Nikou says, “you understand that this is not a movie about a pandemic. For sure, it’s a strange coincidence, but the pandemic we created is more an allegory, something symbolic that happens in the mind of the main characters.”
Apples is a profoundly existential film, as well as quietly surreal and drily comic (Nikou was an assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, 2009). It is about a man caught in a wave of amnesia cases, who is provided with a set of instructions for creating a new life in the absence of all the things – memories, friends and family, a name – on which we depend for our sense of self. But Apples also addresses something that could be considered to have established itself as a pandemic long before Covid-19, and which lockdown has intensified for everyone – isolation.
Isolation is something that we’ve been dealing with more and more, and we never understood it.Christos Nikou
“Isolation,” Nikou says, “is something that we’ve been dealing with more and more, and we never understood it. The way we experience life through social media and technology – people in cafés not talking, just staring at cellphones – hasn’t changed at all in the last year. The only thing that’s changed is we don’t see people in person. For me it’s optimistic that we’ve realised that this translates as loneliness, because maybe now we’ll try to change it and start living again.”
More directly lockdown-themed, Gerbase’s The Pink Cloud is set in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. When the noxious phenomenon of the title descends, Giovana and Yago, who have only just met and spent a night together, find themselves obliged to form a permanent couple, living together in Giovana’s apartment. As lockdown continues beyond expectations, we see them adjusting to a new way of life, while global society sees mores changing in strange and unpredictable ways.
Premiered at Sundance in January, the film could not be more accurate in predicting specific aspects of lockdown experience: you assume Gerbase must have researched what such conditions would be like.
Not at all, she says: “My research focused on other fictions, like Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel , Sartre’s No Exit , Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None . I was analysing the reactions of characters who are confined against their will. Apart from that, everything was from imagination.”
The government in the film is much faster and smarter than ours.Iuli Gerbase
It’s hard not to measure an imaginary Brazilian lockdown against the grim reality of the Bolsonaro government’s ruinous response to Covid. How specifically Brazilian is The Pink Cloud? “Brazil is a big country, so I could never say it represents the whole country. Giovana and Yago are in a very comfortable apartment, which unfortunately doesn’t represent the reality of most people in the country.
“Of course, in Brazil, the pandemic situation is very bad since our government dealt with things in a terrible, irresponsible way. The government in the film is much faster and smarter than ours.”
Strangely, says Gerbase, making the film helped her and her collaborators when it came to actual lockdown. “In the beginning, when we thought it would last only two months, we were saying among the crew that the film prepared us for the pandemic. The Pink Cloud set was like our rehearsal. But of course, things got worse and we got as anxious as everyone else.”
I hope we’ll immediately erase this way of watching – movies are made to be on the big screen.Christos Nikou
Like most filmmakers premiering work over the last year, Nikou and Gerbase experienced the frustration of not being able to travel and meet live audiences. Apples, however, was screened live in Venice in September, during a brief gap between lockdowns, and Nikou could attend in person – “My only visit to a theatre to watch a movie in 2020.” Otherwise, he has remained in Athens, preparing his next film.
Nikou has mixed feelings about the new streaming economy that we have all rapidly adjusted to. “I hope that we’ll immediately erase this way of watching and return to theatres – movies are made to be on the big screen. When you see a film with people, you remember who you were with in the theatre. When cinemas reopen, I’ll probably go every day.”
Iuli Gerbase feels the same way. “I’ve watched many films at home, but it doesn’t compare. I did so many things online – my birthday party, yoga classes, the post-production of the film. I couldn’t imagine this pandemic without the internet. But I really miss seeing my friends in person – I keep dreaming that I’m dancing at a party.”
Apples is a memorably deadpan take on the will to forget
By Anton Bitel
The Pink Cloud: an inadvertently true-to-life lockdown drama
By Thomas Flew
Brazilian cinema in crisis
By Jonathan Romney
Kleber Mendonça Filho on Recife’s Cinema São Luiz, his hometown picture palace
By Kleber Mendonça Filho
Sight and Sound September 2022
In this issue: Quentin Tarantino on tape, the best film podcasts, Baz Luhrmann on Elvis, Warren Ellis on composing for film and Panah Panahi on Hit the Road. Plus: Black Film Bulletin, James Caan, Georges Méliès and more.Find out more and get a copy