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Is Wes Anderson’s Prada short film an ad or art?

About the author

Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

The Moonrise Kingdom filmmaker has made a loving tribute to Federico Fellini that is also a promo for Prada. What separates a commercial from a short film?

Wes Anderson has directed many commercials during his career, but none of his previous promos have obscured the line between art and commerce as completely as his latest short film, Castello Cavalcanti.

In the eight minute narrative, Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman plays a boorish racecar driver – he says things like “give me a shot of the local hooch” – who crashes into a small Italian village during a cross-country race. Castello Cavalcanti is vintage Anderson, splashed with colour, shots meticulously crafted like shoebox dioramas But it is also something more.

The film is a tribute to Federico Fellini – a true delight for cinephiles – and it is packed with references to the director’s formidable canon despite its short running time. The Grand Prix that lands Schwartzman’s driver in the village recalls the auto race in Amarcord, and the statue of Christ his car crashes crashes into looks suspiciously like the one that flies over Rome at the beginning of La Dolce Vita. Anderson has long acknowledged the influence of Fellini on his own work, particularly in his caricature-like background characters. The young boy wearing a grossly oversized fedora in Castello Cavalcanti would be at home in either Rushmore or Roma. Not to mention Anderson’s demand to shoot The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at Rome’s legendary film studio, Cinecitta, Fellini’s old stomping ground.

Castello Cavalcanti is certainly a treat for film history buffs, but it may be even better advertising for its sponsor, Prada. The only time you see the fashion house’s logo is in the beginning credits, and then again on the back of Schwartzman’s racing suit. Not a saturation campaign to be sure, but the fact that the fashion house has helped Anderson fans pass the time until the release of his next feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, in March 2014, is sure to generate goodwill – much like what Freixenet achieved in 2007 when the sparkling winemaker commissioned Martin Scorsese to direct the Hitchcock-homage commercial The Key to Reserva.

Prada certainly understands one thing: sometimes it takes a spoonful of auteur artistry to help the advertising go down.

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