The seed for director David O. Russell’s new star-studded short film for Miuccia Prada began when the designer and director were talking about art, and the conversation soon turned to the idea of Russell making a piece of art for Prada. Russell says the designer gave him almost carte blanche to do what he wanted, and Russell, in turn, gave that power to his unconscious mind by taking cues from the surrealist movement of the 1920s. The result is Past Forward, a silent thriller set within a dream, shot in high contrast black and white and packed with familiar faces including Allison Williams, Freida Pinto, John Krasinski, and Connie Britton.
The film was first previewed through fragments at Prada's most recent presentation in Milan, and debuted in full on Tuesday in Los Angeles. It is now available to view on Prada.com and via YouTube, below. Designed as something of a multi-media experience, the film will also play in Prada boutiques.
If the result happens to bring to mind particularly of-the-moment thoughts of anxiety, a sense of uncertainty, or fears of deportation, Russell says he didn't intend it to. Though, he's certainly open to that interpretation.
"One person told me last night it’s like we took all our experiences you could possibly have and put them in the film," Russell said of the response to his film at the L.A. screening. "Another person told me last night that they thought it was about all the people who might have fears about being deported."
Though Russell has a notable list of repeat players (Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro among them) in his feature work, including American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, the short gave him a chance to work with new collaborators.
"I had friends and I wanted them to be in this, and they introduced me to other people, and maybe they couldn’t be in it because they had other things, but then they introduced me to people like Freida Pinto," he said.
Pinto, Williams and Kuoth Wiel share the lead role, each of them playing mirroring versions of the main character, while Krasinski, Jack Huston and Sinqua Walls play three different versions of the film's main love interest. Britton, Paula Patton, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jason and Randy Sklar (the identical comedian twins and podcasters), and Thomas Matthews all pop up in roles throughout.
"It’s interesting to see the same look in the eyes of one actress, and in another actress, and then in a third actress," said Russell. "Both in a human way and a filmmaking way."
The film has a distinctive Hitchcockian-vibe to it, and there are references to surrealist art throughout. The experience also allowed Russell to try out new things as a filmmaker he was never able to before. "There were shots and images I had wanted to use for twenty years, and I finally got to use all those ideas. Raking shots, strobing shots, and lighting ideas I wanted to do and I finally go to do,” he said.
Russell's next project is also a non-feature project. He's lined up a television series starring Julianne Moore and Robert De Niro at Amazon. "The chance to work in new formats, whether serialized tv or surrealist shorts, is always exciting for me," he said.