David O. Russell channels Alfred Hitchcock and the forces of surrealism, from Franz Kafka to André Breton, in a new 14-minute short film for Prada. Past Forward stars Allison Williams, Freida Pinto, Connie Britton, John Krasinski, Jack Huston, and Sacha Baron Cohen in revolving roles that defy the laws of space and time. They are sylphs of a black-and-white wonderworld governed by spontaneous ballroom dancing (reminiscent of Silver Linings Playbook), stylized chase sequences, romps on the beach, and absurd images like faces without mouths.
"It’s exciting because it's riveting, and it's a mystery, and you don't understand it but it grips you," he said.
Miuccia Prada gave Russell carte blanche for the project—so much so that the director initially doubted its viability. "It was so open that I didn't think it was going to happen," he said. "I kept proposing stream of consciousness memories and ideas, and she just said, 'Do what you want to do.'"
Russell rode this sense of freedom all the way into the production. "I didn't know who was going to show up," he said. "I didn't know Sacha [Baron Cohen] was going to show up. We're friends and he said he was going to stop by. I invited different actors to come. I didn't know [who was] going to show up."
For Russell, the film evokes a feeling of uncertainty that he finds most often in his favorite movies and dreams. "You can still find love or locate yourself in them, but they’re tinged with a feeling of uncertainty," he explained. "And that's what an early Hitchcock film felt like to me: everybody’s under suspicion and doesn't feel exactly sure of what is going to happen."
"It was an opportunity to do a creative work of pure cinema that I chose to do without dialogue and in black and white."
In light of the recent US election, the film has taken on new meaning. "I almost think the whole thing is almost a premonition of how the country feels right now to me," Russell said.
But ultimately, Past Forward is a fashion film—even if Russell himself won't admit it. "I didn't think of it as a fashion film!" he said. "I still don't. I just think of it as a film. It was an opportunity to do a creative work of pure cinema that I chose to do without dialogue and to do in black and white. How often do you get an opportunity to do something like that?"
Of course, Russell isn't without a certain appreciation for haute couture. "I love people in elegant clothing who have a sense of dignity that cannot be taken away from them," he said.