Short of the Week

First Spring

Beauty and elegance are on display in this black and white branded film from fashion label Prada.

For once I didn’t have to look for a film, this one found me all by itself! Front page of the New York Times web site, in a fancy pull-down banner ad. So yes, this means once again I’ve fallen for a glorified commercial. This one comes courtesy of Prada, and features the cinematic talents of art-world sensation Yang Fudong, designing the film as a centerpiece to the company’s rollout of the spring men’s line.

First Spring is rapturously shot in B&W digital, and revolves around three couples—snappily dressed of course, as they traverse a bygone Shanghai on the cusp of modernity. The film is dreamy and vague, yet rich in detail, providing an engaged viewer a wealth of material in which to dissect meaning, yet surely will frustrate the casual viewer with its lack of dialogue, perplexing narrative, and its (potentially) non-linear presentation.

Yang is an interesting choice for a promo film. Hardly a household name, yet growing in critical estimation, he just recently had his 5-hour opus Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest make its stateside debut over the summer. He is considered a rising star of independent-filmmaking in mainland China, but his output, though possessing the visual fetishism and spiritual melancholy that typifies some of the best work to come from that country, can be seen as similar to the more opaque works of the nouvelle vague, with its self conscious profundities, and deliberately challenging stance towards audiences. The concisest summary of Yang’s career and aesthetic can be read here.

Fashion has always maintained close contact with the arts via the photography and the various forms of design necessary to market its product, not to mention the aesthetics of the garments themselves. Therefore I have found the recent trend in fashion films to be logical, yet fascinating. First Spring, seems an interesting progression of this trend, as it moves explicitly towards the art-side of filmmaking and away from the commercial leanings of previous high profile fashion films, such as Dior’s Lady Noire Affair, Jean Pierre Jeunet’s piece for Chanel no.5., or even Murakami’s artistic, yet accessibly pop films for Louis Vuitton.

The fashion consumer, that most prized of commodity, tends to appreciate fashion on a level far above mere status; they are appreciators of construction, technique, taste and most of all history—the narrative behind the brand and the way the pieces comment and innovate within a shared history of fashion. This sort of cultured sensibility is similar in so many ways to the consumer of modern art across mediums, and Prada seems to recognize that by commissioning a fashion film that feels more at home in a museum than on the web.

Co-Founder of Short of the Week, Sondhi lives in Brooklyn working as a Curator for Vimeo. Follow his musings on online video, direct distribution and branded content: @jasondhi.
  • Daniel Bottoms

    A beautiful …..commercial.There is no plot, character development or anything to call it a film.Please try the new film art called” foley” for sound. I did not have to look at the screen to know when the camera angle changed. The wind in the mics told me that. To have so many choices to pick a “film of the week ” this is very disappointing.I hope they paid your site for showing their ad.

  • Andrew S Allen

    Shout out to Prada for the new shoes… too bad they kinda clash with my Gucci scarf.

  • Andrew S Allen

    To be fair, this isn’t an “… of the week” pick—it’s “… of the moment” where we tend to highlight other films that blur boundaries or perhaps are a bit more experimental.

  • Jason Sondhi

    Oof. That’s harsh Daniel, I agree that your reactions have been spot on, even when you rip me a little for something like “Kisses From Paris”, but I’ll defend this one.

    Perhaps I didn’t drive home in the review how inaccessible the film is, but I find merit in it. Film art is challenging, difficult and often, depending on the viewer, amateurish or boring . Yang Fudong makes film for the museum set, and to a certain extent the classic Duchamp riddle applies—what makes self-conscious films “art”? The fact that they are played at museums?

    While I sometimes do decry the latitude in interpretation film creators provide audiences, in this film I see a lot of powerful motifs engaging weighty themes. Modernity—The asian couples in western dress, contrasted with the traditional setting, especially when the modern couple gaze at the women from behind the window. Gender—the traditional women at the beginning, perusing a room of empty birdcages, the modern men, hung up to float above the street, objects themselves of a reciprocating gaze. The metaphor of the high wire itself, rife with danger, expressing the need for balance. The men floating via undisguised wires, a connection it and of itself to China’s rich Wuxia film tradition?

    That’s really only the start of the things in the film itself my eye and mind latched onto. Then take in to consideration the external factors—the high profile placement on the front page of the Times, ensuring more eyeballs were likely to be exposed to it than nearly any other short film we cover, plus its placement within the trend of extremely high-profile fashion short films (Scorcese has just wrapped shooting one for Chanel), really made reviewing this film seem like a no-brainer.

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