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Prada Past Forward
Past Forward, a film by Prada and David O. RussellCourtesy of Prada

Prada’s new film references surrealism, Hitchcock and dreams

Director David O. Russell discusses working with Mrs. Prada and getting inspired by memories, the unconscious and archetypes of femininity

In attempting to describe – or better yet, understand – Prada and director David O. Russell’s new film Past Forward, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams might be a more useful companion than a press release. Debuted this week in its entirety (rather than as the backdrop to the runway, as it was for their September womenswear show) the silent, black and white film is perhaps best described as an unreliable narrative. There isn’t one heroine and hero, but three of each – we follow them for 20 minutes through a world that doesn’t quite make sense, chasing the characters through airports and crowds, watching them dance and kiss in the rain as they enact the same surreal scenes, pair by pair. But when is this futuristic world set? Are we watching a moment unfold on a television in one of the women’s apartments, or are we inside a dream? If, so, whose? Like the idea that every decision we make creates a parallel universe, with alternate worlds splitting off into strings of infinite possibilities, here there is no ultimate truth.

Prada has a history of teaming up with acclaimed directors, having previously tapped names including Wes Anderson and Ridley Scott. The collaboration with O. Russell (the man behind Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and Joy) began with a conversation he had with Miuccia Prada at dinner, leading them to discuss “what cinema is, what memory is, what life is, what dreams are” – for, as he says, “these are all related.”

The resulting film can be read as a combination of these things, of the ways that cinema crosses over with life, that scenes become archetypes, entangled with our collective memories. Part of the joy of the film is the way its references spark moments of recognition – eerie sets of identical twins like something out of Brave New World; a moment mirroring the part in Dalí and Buñuel’s similarly greyscale silent film Un Chien Andalou, where a man’s mouth is replaced by a horrifying expanse of smooth skin; two lovers kissing, their faces entangled in cloth recalling Rene Magritte’s The Lovers; the score which takes its cues from Vertigo (and yes, there’s even a Hitchcock blonde). But more than anything, you get the feeling like it’s appealing to something deeper in us, something more human, more elemental. After all, haven’t we all had dreams like this?

Below, O. Russell discusses working with Mrs. Prada, getting inspired by his subconscious and the multifaceted nature of femininity.

ON THE COLLABORATION WITH MIUCCIA PRADA

“We had a conversation about contemporary art and movies. What emotions and images live in a painting or a movie or a sculpture or a memory. She follows her instincts and encourages you to do the same, she is no nonsense, and direct and real and she loves movies and memories and mysteries that somehow point to an unknown future.”

ON THE FILM’S ‘SURREAL, SILENT DREAMSCAPE’

“That’s the pure instinct of photographs, silent film, and dreams. Many memories and dreams are powerful or evoke feelings that are not clear to us in a day to day logic – that’s what makes them mysterious and scary or enchanting. (I looked to) My own personal memories, recurring dreams, and movies that captivated me many times during my life.”

ON THE FILM’S THREE HEROINE VISION OF FEMININITY

“Different kinds of women evoke different kinds of feelings while they’re having the same experience. There is a universality and an individuality in women that coexist at the same time. Just as one person can be lonely or in love, or scared, in danger, or powerful and fierce. The same person, different colors, individual types, different identities at different times, universal but different, alone together, a mystery. Kind of like how do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all exist at the same time? It’s a mystery.”

Watch Past Forward on Prada.com